Government soil health priorities thrown into question

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The government response to an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee report on soil health has been met with a lukewarm reception, with some saying enough isn’t being done.

The report, published in December last year, called for soil health to be considered a top priority alongside water and air quality.

It included recommendations for government such as pushing promised soil health indicators by the end of the year, as well as collecting earlier insights for soil health and long-term funding for its current monitoring programme.

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EFRA welcome parts of the response, with the government placing value on establishing a shared understanding of sustainable soil management and the continued standardisation of soil health indicators.

There has also been a positive reception to raises in payment rates to farmers and land managers under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements.

However, some parts of the response were criticised, such as the Environment Agency’s Big Soil Stocktake lack of clarity and vague details on how farming incentive schemes will be adapted to focus more on soil health.

While reviews and reforms of soil and fertiliser regulations were mentioned, there have been questions over if this will cause meaningful change.

The committee also recommends the government addresses issues in the food supply chain that encourage poor soil management, alongside clarifying deadlines for their number of commitments.

The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, said: “We are glad that the Government shares our committee’s concerns regarding the challenges facing soil health in England, but we are disappointed that its response to our report is noncommittal on several important measures, leaving much open to an unclear review process.

Soil Association also commented, with their head of farming policy Gareth Morgan said: “It is alarming that government has ignored this advice from the EFRA inquiry and failed to act on many recommendations including the call to better regulate harmful practices.

“Its response today is largely a reiteration of previous commitments and this underlines the need for a Soil Health Action Plan which was promised but never delivered.”

It remains to be seen how soil health will be prioritised.

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