Along with air and water, the soil is a fundamental resource that determines the quality and quantity of agricultural output. With climate change and pollution, however, soil quality is fast degrading.
While the onus of maintaining soil health lies mainly with the UK farmers who own the land, they are often compelled to think of short-term profits rather than long-term environmental effects and sustainability.
Agro-chemicals are a quick way to boost soil nutrient content – they have traditionally been associated with farming efficiency and increased food production. The truth is, however, that agro-chemicals cause significant soil and water damage that end up bringing down production.
Moreover, research has demonstrated that soil rich in organic matter (rather than chemical nutrients) can help reduce the risk of floods and improve climate resilience.
Therefore, UK farmers need to commit to nurturing their soil to preserve farm health and keep up with the food demands of a burgeoning population. Here are some ways to improve soil quality over the next few years:
1. Monitor soil health
Regularly assessing soil health is vital for identifying degradation at an early stage and mitigating it. Farmers should be given the resources to test and monitor soil quality and report the results as a part of cross-compliance.
Incentives such as earned eligibility for the ‘Basic Payment to farmers’ programme can inspire them to work towards improving soil quality above threshold levels consciously.
2. Minimise soil compaction
Soil compaction has multiple adverse effects, including poor root growth, reduced agricultural yield, more surface water run-off and fewer grazing days.
Methods to reduce this include routinely assessing soil compaction levels, using lighter machinery to stress the soil less, avoiding overgrazing and grazing on wetland, experimenting with low-till/no-till farming and using the proper tyre pressure.
Strengthened government measures such as making the treatment of soil compaction a GAEC standard will improve farmer participation and increase awareness about remedial strategies and when to implement them.
3. Design a crop rotation plan
Traditional arable crop rotations deplete the soil of valuable nutrients and reduce its ability to replenish itself for the next crop cycle. The solution is to design a long-term crop rotation plan where high-value crops are interspersed with other varieties that preserve soil organic matter (such as legumes).
The focus is on financial margins over a whole crop rotation period rather than the conventional annual margins. Crop rotation gives the soil enough time to recover its organic matter balance and provides the farmer with new ways to earn money through different crops.
The government can help by providing incentives for mixed farming, imposing stricter requirements for healthy crop rotations and investing in more R&D on long-term soil health.
4. Add more trees to farmland
The process is known as agroforestry, and it has multiple benefits in terms of preventing soil erosion, serving as a windbreak for crops and enhancing general climate resilience.
The UK farmers can research which trees are ecologically compatible with their local terrain and then plant them on rough grazing or steep land. More research on the quantifiable benefits of agroforestry will increase its adoption.
5. Create a continuous plant cover
Even if farmers do not or cannot opt for agroforestry, covering bare soil with plant cover will boost soil health, improve air circulation, prevent erosion, encourage plant-fungal interactions and enhance water quality.
The UK farmers can accomplish this by bringing their vulnerable agricultural land under permanent grassland or using cover crops or green manure wherever possible.
Government efforts can include research on appropriate cover crops and strict measures against improper compliance – maise stubble, for instance, has adverse effects on the soil and thus should not be used as soil cover.
6. Encourage the presence of soil organisms
Earthworms, snails, microorganisms and other creatures are vital to the soil ecosystem. The UK farmers can preserve and encourage their presence in crop fields by ploughing the soil less often and making intelligent decisions about which agro-chemicals to use and in what quantity.
Government investment in R&D on soil biology and its link to agricultural output will help power these decisions. Stricter regulations on agro-chemical testing will also ensure that soil organisms are not unintentionally harmed.
7. Enhance the value of crops with BiOWiSH® Crop
No surprise, increasing crop production without further damaging the soil or reducing the yield value is a challenge for UK farmers.
Thankfully, our BiOWiSH® Crop can come in handy in this scenario. It is a proprietary blend of beneficial microbes. You see – unique bacteria strains are fermented to create stable, consistent biology., which stimulates the natural processes – extending soil fertility and optimising the crop value potential.
This BiOWiSH® product works in overall operating conditions, so UK farmers can constantly see positive results. If you want to know more about BiOWiSH® Crop, please get in touch with us.
8. Increase the levels of plant and animal matter in the fields
Replenishing organic matter is vital for soil health, and the UK farmers should invest in techniques like composting, manure as fertiliser and bringing livestock into arable farm grass. The government can help by providing educational resources and monetary incentives for such practices.
Over to you
In conclusion, given the concerning rates of soil depletion in the UK, urgent action is needed to preserve ecological balance while sustaining the food supply chain.
Therefore, the UK government must support practices that boost soil organic content by at least 20% over the next twenty years. All the eight techniques outlined above are already used by organic farmers and can potentially be adapted for widespread arable farming. Government research and financial support can enable that.