Written Evidence submitted by Anglo American (SH0043)

Anglo American welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation on Soil Health. We are committed to bringing more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly fertilisers to market and implementing the higher nutrient management standards required to help improve soil health, creating a more sustainable crop nutrients industry fit for the 21st century.

We believe this can be achieved within a framework where management of soil health and nutrient inputs are seen as mutually reinforcing, not prioritising one at the expense of the other. By adopting a more balanced approach to crop nutrition, farmers can maintain or increase food productivity and improve soil health, whilst mitigating the most severe environmental impacts related to the use of chemical fertilisers.

The use of natural mineral fertilisers to help remineralise and improve the structure of soils, as well as supplying valuable crop nutrients, can be seen as a first line towards a strategic approach to aligning the requirements of both Soil Health and Nutrient Management. 

Anglo American is a UK headquartered FTSE 100 listed global mining company with a portfolio that spans fertilisers, platinum, copper, diamonds, iron ore and several other minerals. Our portfolio of world-class assets produces the metals and minerals needed to power a cleaner, more sustainable future. Our metals are the essential ingredients in smartphones, electric cars and wind turbines and our basic materials build homes, offices, railways and airports that help form the backbone of the British economy.

Our Crop Nutrients business is focussed on developing the ultra-low impact Woodsmith Mine in North Yorkshire into a 10 million tonne per year source of polyhalite, a natural mineral containing the macronutrients potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium plus numerous micronutrients. Polyhalite is mined with a low carbon footprint, low water footprint and little or no waste generation.

Woodsmith Mine will become one of the world’s largest single sources of crop nutrients when it reaches full production in the coming years. This means there will be, for the first time in decades, a new, large-scale, reliable source of macro and micro nutrients to support farmers in balancing the needs of the soil and the crop.

We are pleased to provide our contribution to this consultation by responding to questions 4 and 5, included below. We hope you find this a useful contribution to the committee’s inquiry.

Our Response

Q4. 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?

We believe there is a need for a shift in mindset and policy to maintain and improve soil health, address long term deficiencies in soil nutrients, and increase the efficient use of both applied and in-soil nutrients.

Soil health should be the starting point for crop nutrition, guiding the choice of nutrient sources and land management practice. The long-term use of chemical fertilisers can acidify the soil, reducing the availability of nutrients to the crop, damaging soil structure and leading to greater nutrient run-off. Farmers should be incentivised to choose fertilisers that provide essential nutrition without detriment to the soil and enhance long term soil health.

Polyhalite is a naturally occurring fertiliser with inherent soil health benefits, established through laboratory and global field-scale trials over the last decade. The calcium in polyhalite improves soil flocculation (to stabilise soil aggregates), which leads to better water infiltration and drainage, as well as better aeration and water retention. The improved soil structure helps resist both compaction and erosion and provides more favourable environments for soil flora and fauna. Polyhalite is low chloride, pH neutral and does not cause a sudden increase in salt index which may impair soil biology. Its influence on soil health improves the uptake of all nutrients, including those from applied chemical fertilisers, increasing nutrient use efficiency, and mitigating the effects of high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.[i]

In the UK only 32% of arable soils are at target value for potassium and only 42% for magnesium[ii]. Polyhalite releases plant-available nutrients slowly during the growing season to provide the crop with the right nutrients at the right time for their reproductive stage. This reduces waste by improving nutrient uptake from the soil.

Until now, fertilisers and soil conditioners have been considered two different types of independent inputs. Polyhalite bridges that gap by providing both crop nutrition and soil health benefits, bringing farmers closer to a system that balances immediate yield requirements with long term sustainability.

The use of multi-nutrient, natural fertilisers contribute to soil regeneration as well as providing a base for nutrient management plans that are more environmentally friendly than those relying on chemical fertilisers alone. Polyhalite is suitable for all crops, including high value salt-sensitive crops such as potatoes or sugar beet and is also certified for organic farming.

Policy makers should incentivise the use of fertilisers that enable a transition from chemical fertiliser-based programmes with their associated negative impact on the soil, to fertilisers that are in harmony with the soil. This approach would help address nutrient deficiencies while maximising soil health.

Farmers also need a regulatory framework that will allow them to adopt new or improved science in both soil health and plant nutrition, and one which encourages the development of new technologies.

We would support the development of future-proofed policies to enable innovation in fertilisers, allowing companies to bring to market new products which can deliver both crop nutrition and soil health benefits without long and cumbersome processes. Currently, companies are restricted by being inscribed on a list of accepted types of fertilisers or having to meet criteria that were set with chemically processed products in mind. Natural, multi-nutrient fertilisers like polyhalite, for example, can help to address nutrient deficiencies and achieve balanced fertilisation while conditioning the soil and reducing nutrient pollution. Additionally, the avoidance of chemical processing means that manufacturers have to allow for the expected variation in natural minerals in comparison to chemically-processed fertilisers. This is particularly true of multi-nutrient minerals than can exhibit nutrient concentrations independent of one another.


Q5. What does the UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination?

By making soil health the starting point for policies related to crop nutrition, the Government can help prevent inadvertent pollution from the application of fertilisers and a more holistic approach to land management. This may include defining limits on contaminants, but also promoting the use of products that do not have unwanted side effects such as acidification.

February 2023


[i] Source - Anglo American trial data: 7.3% increase in N offtake (kg/ha-1) observed with POLY4 vs NP+MOP application across 41 fertiliser responsive trials with recommended rates of NP(K); 5.6% increase in P offtake observed with POLY4 vs NP+MOP application across 37 fertiliser responsive trials with recommended rates of NP(K).

[ii] NRM Soil Summary, 2021, https://cawood.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Soil-Summary-2021-digital.pdf