Written evidence submitted by Charles Paynter (SH0026)

Soil Health – Call for evidence.                        Submitter: Charles Paynter -arable farmer

Q. How can the Government measure progress towards making all soils sustainably managed…?

A. There is an urgent need to put much more money into researching the soil microbiome. The truth is that we only have a vague idea about what is going on. A review of research generally concludes that more questions are raised than answered. Until more is found out that enable terms such as soil ‘sustainability’ or ‘health’ to be more accurately defined, we run the risk of falling short of significantly increasing biodiversity which is probably the basic requirement in all of this.

Q. Do current regulations ensure that all landowners……?

A. Yes. Further regulation is not the answer. The process of changing the farmed environment for the better requires farmers and growers to fully engage. First and foremost they have to believe in it. This is a process of radically changing mindsets and it will require financial motivation, training, leadership and inspiration.

Q. Will ELM standards have sufficient ambition…..?

A. They’re a good starting point but the key hurdle to overcome is actually persuading farmers of the benefits of traveling in this direction. (See above). Its all about perceptions and overcoming the resistance to fairly radical change. See below as to why this is important

Q. What changes do we need to see…….?

A. Human health in the UK is in crisis as is biodiversity. All those involved in agriculture and food production are partly responsible for this as are ordinary consumers who have staggeringly low levels of knowledge about the food they eat and the impact it has on the environment. I refer you to the work by prof Tim Spector and the Zoe team on the human gut biome. As with soil health, there is growing realisation about the importance of microbiology in human health. There needs to be far more resources put into researching and disseminating this information so that ordinary people can make far better choices about what they eat. This will create a knock on effect of seismic proportions throughout the food processing sector and on into agriculture most probably delivering the aim of ELM almost by default. We need to totally overhaul current food labelling which highlights calories etc and instead focus on the degree of processing that has taken place. Get Tim Spector to advise you!

Q. What does the Government need to do to tackle…..?

A. Greater emphasis on education particularly amongst the young about the overall problem of pollution. Unless they’re convinced of the need to think about waste and pollution and what it may be doing to their long term health, they are unlikely to grow up with the determination to live better and respect the environment properly. Food production and its effects on the environment needs teaching in school. A key requirement should be that all children should have direct exposure to farming, food and the environment. Land managers need to be made more aware of the effects of their activities on soil, water and air contamination.

In conclusion my opinion is that ELM, whilst well meaning, is not as likely to lead to the wholesale change in attitudes needed at societal level if just focuses on land managers. I fear it will be little more than a sticking plaster and end up being a missed opportunity on a massive scale.

February 2023