UK farmers may only have 100 more harvests unless they improve their soil

Poor soil quality could mean only 100 more harvests in the UK

Poor soil quality could mean only 100 more harvests in the UK

The idea of food scarcity just got a little more real in the United Kingdom. New research released by The Soil Association states that with continued soil loss and degradation, farmers in the UK may only have 100 more harvests left.

The document – Seven Ways to Save Our Soils – outlines seven key ways to increase soil organic matter in the UK’s arable and horticultural soils by 20 per cent over the next 20 years.

One of the best ways of increasing organic matter means feeding the soil with good quality compost on a regular basis.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, highlighted some of the potential benefits of boosting soil organic matter.

“An increase of 20 per cent,” said Melchett, “based on the UK average soil carbon density means nearly 10 tonnes more soil carbon per hectare could be stored by 2035. Boosting soil organic matter could also increase the water holding capacity of arable farmland to 40,000-100,000 litres per hectare, reduce flooding and increase resilience to drought.”

Rich compost will boost water retention and soil health, as well as increase crop nutrients, photo courtesy of Recology

Rich compost will boost water retention and soil health, photo courtesy of Recology

The seven areas highlighted in the report that will improve the health of UK soils are:

  • Increasing the amount of plant and animal matter going back onto fields
  • Improving soil health monitoring nationwide
  • Encouraging soil organisms  (i.e. via composting)
  • Covering up bare soil with continuous plant cover (i.e. mulching)
  • Bringing more trees onto farmland
  • Reducing soil compaction from livestock and machinery
  • Introducing crop rotations designed to improve soil health

It’s easy to follow this thread to a conclusion that recommends organic farming practices. But non-organic farmers can benefit from implementing these farming methods too. These would result in

  • reduced costs from chemical use
  • better understanding and knowledge of the interplay between soil health and crops
  • land that’s more resistant to the effects of climate change

Utilizing these methods would cut back on water use and crops that have higher nutrient value, which consumers will certainly benefit from. So will UK farmers take up the challenge in the face of such a pending crisis? Time will tell. But it would make sense for them to realize this is a real wake-up call.

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