Written Evidence submitted by Carbon Farm Hub Soil Health (SH0016)

Soil health offers a clarifying sense for understanding the effects of farming practices on human health, as it cuts through the usual arguments about conventional versus organic farming. Industrial organic farms can destroy fertile soil as surely as thoughtful conventional farmers can rebuild the health of their fields. About a third of the world’s agricultural land suffers from serious topsoil erosion or reduced fertility that compromises the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people. As if that’s not alarming enough, a 2015 United Nations assessment concluded we remain on track to degrade the productive capacity of our planet’s agricultural land by about another third over the coming century if farming practices continue to damage the soil. The way we grow our food - what we’ve been doing to the land - is undermining civilisation’s agricultural foundation and the health of all of us.


Carbon Farm Hub. (CF Hub) Work for farmers to measure the biological and chemical properties of their soils. The data collected is used to help farmers understand how their practices influence soil health and soil carbon. CFHs also support farmers making good Biologically Complete Compost, where beneficial indigenous soil microbes are cultivated and used to activate soil improvers such as biochar/rock dust or applied directly to the soil or foliage as a probiotic. CFHs specialise in matching the soil fungal: bacterial ratio’s with the desired crop succession, becoming more fungal for trees.


Ongoing annual social, environmental and carbon measurements are collected for dissemination by CF Hub data analysers. Data is then shared with third-party verifiers who certify that QUantification, Additionality, Long-term storage and Sustainab-ITY; (QU.A.L.ITY) standards have been met. Once they have, farmers can issue certified credits to a public registry to access different varieties of financing opportunities linked to biodiversity, water storage, carbon credits etc.


For regenerative transition. Farmers require the support of services that are better delivered at scale. Each hub can break even, supporting just 2-3 farmers but could support hundreds in a 2-3 hour radius. Hubs generate income from the services provided, although significant revenue will be from chemical-fertilizer displacements and the introduction of high-performing organic alternatives. 5-10 initial hub sites have been identified


Questions and Answers

-     How can the Government measure progress towards its goal of making all soils sustainably managed by 2030? What are the challenges in gathering data to measure soil health how can these barriers be overcome?

     The UK Farm Soil Carbon Code (currently embargoed by DEFRA and the BSi) could be the perfect vehicle to measure the quality of farmers’ carbon removals. Unfortunately, the  Loss Of  Ignition (LOI) test used to understand levels of soil carbon and soil carbon accumulation, is not robust enough to issue a high-quality soil carbon credit through the voluntary carbon standard. Other metrics, such as social, environmental and carbon changes, need to be measured and reported to a third-party verifier. Certificates are then published in transparent and interoperable registers to avoid double counting and to help the providers of carbon removals to access different types of financing opportunities.

-     The challenge CFHs face is that protocols don’t exist to guide Hubs on what to measure, monitor and report to third-party verifiers. There is however a four-year funded project CFHs are involved with to understand what measurements are; useful, viable and considered good enough to deliver Paris-aligned high-quality carbon credits to satisfy the growing demand for high-quality carbon dioxide removals from corporates wanting to trade in Europe post-2024 under the new EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).

-     Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/ land managers maintain and/or improve soil health? If not, how should they be improved?

    Just what is soil health? Soil health refers to the overall condition and functioning of the soil. Healthy soil can support the growth and development of plants, as well as a diverse community of microorganisms and other living things. Several factors contribute to soil health, including:

          1. Soil structure: A healthy soil has a well-defined structure, with a mix of large and small particles that allows for good drainage and movement of air and water through the soil. Good regenerative agronomists trained to recognise soil tilth are rare. Hubs agronomists are trained to provide farmers with this service.
          2. Soil fertility: A healthy soil contains a range of nutrients including macronutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and micronutrients (such as boron, zinc, and iron), that are essential for plant growth. UKAS Labs offer a satisfactory macro and micronutrient assessment of soil for farmers. Because not all farmers are not taught to interpret the soil results, there is an opportunity for chicanery among agricultural retailers.
          3. Soil biology: A healthy soil is home to a diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes, that play important roles; in the cycling of nutrients and the decomposition of organic matter, forming soil organic carbon (humus). Labs that measure soil life exist but not for most farmers. Hubs could provide standardised soil microbiological measuring services for soils on farms.
          4. Soil pH: A healthy soil has a pH (a measure of acidity or alkalinity) within a range; that is suitable to release essential minerals to certain plants. UKAS labs offer soil pH measurements for farmers. Hubs will bring that service onto farms to provide a better service.
          5. Soil moisture: A healthy soil can hold adequate moisture to support plant growth. But not so much that it becomes waterlogged or prone to erosion. Soil organic carbon is a good measure of soil's ability to resist erosion while holding sufficient water to support crops. Hub laboratories could offer this service to farmers.

-     To gather all the data above to maintain and improve soil health is difficult, expensive and complicated to translate into a language farmers can deploy on a scale that makes a difference to soil health. Carbon Farm Hubs can address this issue by providing measurements on farms to support farmers, as well as using the data to access high-value carbon credits.

-     Will the standards under the Environmental Land Management scheme have sufficient ambition and flexibility to restore soils across different types of agricultural land? What are the threats and opportunities for soil health as ELMs are introduced?

     ELM can be a good way to use policy to change land management practices. If standardised science-based measurements and protocols; aligned with the Paris accord, the 4per1000 initiative and the UK FSCC were in place to verify farmers’ adoption of ELM. UK farmers would be in a better position to issue high-quality carbon credits to satisfy corporate demand for high-quality CO2e removals to trade in the UK, Europe and elsewhere post-2024.

-     the cost and availability of useful soil health measurements to make management changes seem to be a barrier to the adoption of ELM. Also, a credible third-party verifier licensed to issue high-quality soil and other agricultural carbon credits, to satisfy the CDR markets remain at large.


-     What changes do we need to see in the wider food and agriculture sector to encourage better soil management and how can the Government support this transition?

     The Pillars of Soil Health have been developed and adopted by many regenerative farmers. Alongside the pillars, farmers are learning to make or purchase good aerobic Biologically Complete Compost to re-wild their soils with beneficial indigenous soil microbes lost to the excessive use of chemical fertilisers. Learning microscope skills to measure and monitor changes are relatively unknown soil regeneration skills that could benefit many more farmers, with access to Hubs.

-     What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination?

     For millennia farmers around the world have done things to ensure future crops by adopting practices that boost soil fertility. African, Asian, European, and Native American farmers have all learnt the value of relating or co-planting different crops and discovered the restorative power of growing legumes like peas, beans, cover, and alfalfa. Over time, traditional farming practices in different regions came to include planting cover crops and letting livestock mature harvested fields. Their practices solidified into traditions because they enhanced soil fertility. They worked at least for a while.

     But such practices, especially when done inconsistently or poorly, did not stop water and wind from stripping soil off bare, ploughed fields. Time and again, field after field in the county after the county lost its fertile topsoil. Yet soil loss usually played out gradually enough to forestall urgency in addressing it.

     Widespread soil degradation drove farmers to use - and later wholly rely on chemical fertilizers as well as pesticides developed for killing insects, weeds, and fungi. These new products increased yields so well that traditional soil husbandry practices that once maintained fertility were neglected, sidelined, or abandoned. A harvest-obsessed world chased progress down the agrochemical highway until soils became so contaminated, crops became stunted, deformed and nutritionally poor.

     Now, with billions more people to feed, the soil on much of the UK's farmland stands in far worse shape than under nature’s stewardship. With conventional practices continuing to degrade the land, agriculture will change over the coming century-one way or another. The question is how. This unfolding disaster also presents an opportunity to rebuild soil health and realise the great promise of agriculture - harvesting both quality and quantity through science-based soil health measurements conducted in situ to help farmers make holistic organic choices, rewarding good practices with high-quality carbon credits

Thank you for recognising the demise and the potential of healthy soil

January 2023