Written Evidence submitted by T.I. Soil Ecology Laboratory (SH0036)

  1. 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?
    1. Agree on markers of soil health. Stop ignoring the microbial markers. Plants have four main mechanisms of getting nutrients from a healthy microbial ecosystem: the rhizophagy cycle, mycorrhizal interactions, hosting endophytes (bacterial and/or fungal), mineralisation through grazing of bacteria and fungi by protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods.
    2. There are a number of methods of measuring the microbial community in the soil: direct microscopy, PLFA analysis, mycorrhizal colonisation counts, DNA analysis with gene functions. Help to make these more cost effective. Most will agree that it’s that cost that forces farmers and agronomists to ignore these markers.
  2. Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/land managers maintain and/or improve soil health? If not, how should they be improved?
    1. As a director of a lab that looks at plant - microbiome interactions from the perspective of a viable nutrition source for crops, I’m not in the position to comment on regulations, but we don’t get enquiries driven by government incentives.
  3. Will the standards under Environmental Land Management schemes 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?
    1. No. There is little emphasis on changing the types of inputs to such that support the microbial community. There is not enough talk about decompacting land permanently which would allow for deeper rooting and thus larger surface area for nutrient exchange between plants and the microbial community.
  4. 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?
    1. Plants evolved in a microbial soup which had a billion year head start. There is a plethora of scientific studies from around the world which were successful at demonstrating the potential of using the plant - microbial interactions to grow healthy crops with sufficient yields, but often they were never followed up, and thus never had a chance to be brought to use as products in the marketplace. There needs to be better management of the scientific review process and wider access to funding for startups in the space.
  5. What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination?
    1. DEFRA should stop allowing farmland to be used as a landfill for industrial waste. Why has ammonium sulphate made with sulphuric acid from all sorts of industries been allowed to be spread at 700 litres per hectare of diary pasture across the North of England and Scotland? This is but one example.

February 2023