The Farming Lobby Has Wrecked Efforts To Defend Our Soil

Fields of Oil Seed Rape, from the air, Lincolnshire, April 2011.
Fields of Oil Seed Rape, from the air, Lincolnshire, April 2011. Photograph: Paul White /Alamy

In an extraordinary coup, farmers’ unions and the UK government have torpedoed the European soil framework directive.

“British soils are reaching crisis point.” Don’t take my word for it – this is a quote from a loyal friend of the farming industry, Farmers’ Weekly.

You would expect farmers to try to protect their soils, which are the foundations of their livelihood, and many do. There are some excellent farmers in Britain, careful, well-informed and always thinking of the future.

But across large areas of land, short-termism now triumphs over common sense. Farmers are often in debt to the banks, and seek to clear that debt as quickly as they can. Many are growing crops that are simply incompatible with protecting the soil. Some don’t seem to know very much about soil erosion and why it happens. Others – especially contract farmers working on other people’s land – don’t seem to care.

Sensible land use is giving way to smash-and grab-exploitation.

I always flinch at the name given to soil in the US: dirt. Here there’s a similar conflation: something dirty is said to have been soiled.

But soil is a remarkable substance, a delicately-structured cushion between rock and air, formed from thousands of years of physical and biological processes. It supports an ecosystem that turns unusable materials into plant food, it stores carbon, filters water and protects us from floods. Oh, and there’s the small consideration that without it we would starve. It is, as it takes so long to re-form once it is lost, effectively non-renewable.

Yet this great gift of nature is being squandered at a horrifying rate. One study suggests that soil in Devon is being lost at the rate of five tonnes per hectare per year. There are several reasons for this, mostly to do with bad practice, but the problem has been exacerbated by an increase in the cultivation of maize.

Like the growing of potatoes, maize cultivation with conventional methods in this country is a perfect formula for ripping the soil off the land, as the ground is ploughed deeply then left almost bare for several months. A study in south-west England suggests that the soil structure has broken down in 75% of the maize fields there.

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Lets Talk About Soil

This animated film tells the reality of soil resources around the world, covering the issues of degradation, urbanization, land grabbing and overexploitation; the film offers options to make the way we manage our soils more sustainable.

For more information visit

Study Says Allotment Soil Is Better Than Conventional Farm Land For Food Growing


Soil report shows we should all grow more of our own – New research confirms that soil in allotments and back gardens is richer – and more productive – than on farms

Soil is one of the great failures of modern intensive agriculture. Healthy soils, beneath natural grasslands and – especially – woodlands, contain lots of organic matter. This organic matter holds onto nutrients and gives the soil structural stability, allowing it to resist damage by, for example, heavy rain, thus preventing erosion. There’s also plenty of life in a healthy soil, lots of burrowing earthworms, and so lots of pore space too. A healthy soil is basically a giant sponge, which fills up with water after rain, gradually releasing that water to plants in dry weather.

When land is cleared for agriculture, and especially for arable crops, all that goes out of the window. The organic matter in arable soils is lost to the atmosphere as CO2, and the soil loses its structure and strength, leading to compaction and erosion. Arable soils also lose their ability to hold onto water, nutrients and pollutants, leaking nutrients into groundwater and lakes and rivers, causing eutrophication and, if the water is for human use, the need for expensive water treatment.

Although this is all depressingly well-known, the conventional view is that all this soil degradation is the price we have to pay for the high yields of arable crops on which we all depend. But, says new research just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology [Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture], gardening proves the conventional view to be completely wrong. The researchers looked at the properties of soils on allotments in Leicester, along with those from other urban sites, and compared them with soils beneath arable fields and pasture in the countryside around Leicester.

The arable soils showed all the usual symptoms: compacted, lifeless and low in organic matter. Allotment soils, by contrast, were more open, more fertile, and higher in organic matter, in fact they weren’t all that different from soils beneath woodland. The reason isn’t hard to find: composting of allotment waste is virtually universal among allotment holders, most also import household green waste as well, and use of manure and other kinds of commercial compost is widespread. In short, soils on allotments are healthy because allotment holders go to a lot of trouble to keep them that way.

Continue reading “Study Says Allotment Soil Is Better Than Conventional Farm Land For Food Growing”

The World Is Hungry For Food Sustainability

Saoirse Ronan speaks out on Ireland’s legacy of sustainable farming and the future role it has in providing the world with responsibly sourced food and drink.

Ireland is on a mission to become a world leader in sustainably produced food and drink. With Origin Green, a pioneering national sustainable development programme launched by The Irish Food Board in June 2012, Ireland is galvanising its entire food industry to join the journey to sustainability and be part of the global solution. A growing movement of Irish farmers and producers are answering the call by signing up to the Origin Green charter.

(2013) “Origin Green is a unique programme which will allow Ireland to become a world leader in sustainable high quality food and drink production. The Origin Green programme is built upon the Origin Green Sustainability Charter which will commit participants to engage directly with the challenges of sustainability. This will include reducing energy inputs, minimising overall carbon footprint and lessening impact on the environment in order to increase efficiency and competitiveness.”… as of a year ago “176 companies, representing over 60% of our Food exports, have now signed up to Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme.”

To learn more visit them at: &


How Many People Can Live On The Planet

It’s a delicate subject especially the part surrounding birth rates and fertility but a really good documentary that’s worth watching as it addresses many of the real issues surrounding the environmental impact we have and how sustainability is going to have to be a huge part of all our futures or our future generations may potentially face catastrophic consequences.

Prepare for the best but plan for the worst…

“In a Horizon special, naturalist Sir David Attenborough investigates whether the world is heading for a population crisis.
In his lengthy career, Sir David has watched the human population more than double from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly seven billion. He reflects on the profound effects of this rapid growth, both on humans and the environment.
While much of the projected growth in human population is likely to come from the developing world, it is the lifestyle enjoyed by many in the West that has the most impact on the planet. Some experts claim that in the UK consumers use as much as two and a half times their fair share of Earth’s resources.
Sir David examines whether it is the duty of individuals to commit not only to smaller families, but to change the way they live for the sake of humanity and planet Earth.”