Written evidence submitted by John Turner (SH0053)


  1. Introductory statement

1.1.  I am submitting written evidence for the DEFRA Soil Healthy Inquiry in my capacity as a PhD student. I come from a farming background and am a member of a research group investigating the application of probiotics in farm animal feed.

  1. Will the standards under Environmental Land Management schemes have sufficient ambition and flexibility to restore soils across different types of agricultural land?

2.1.  Standards under the sustainable farming incentive (SFI) should be extended. SFI schemes are insufficient for the arable farms most in need of improved soil health. The rate of increase of soil organic matter (SOM) of 0.5%-1% per year over the three year sustainable farming initiative (SFI) is insufficient to reach the arable target of 5%. Harvesting arable crops significantly depletes SOM. Arable crop rotations aim to improve yield but the rotations operate too quickly for SOM to accumulate. Therefore, SFI should recommend a minimum best practice standard for SOM content of 4-5% before planting the harvest crop.

  1. How can the Government measure progress towards its goal of making all soils sustainably managed by 2030?

3.1.  Soil testing should be expanded. The rhizobacteria is responsible for nitrogen fixation and if depleted, the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen will be reduced. An open reference library of rhizosphere microbiota profiles would be a useful resource for farmers and researchers to monitor soil health using big data analysis. This should be in parallel to the European Soil Data Centre.

  1. 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? 

4.1.  Agricultural practices should be adapted. The fastest way for farmers to improve SOM is to first plough in green crop and then adopt a no-till production cycle with a cover crop cocktail. Cover crop can be sustainably killed using livestock pens and crimp rollers. The objective of both SFI and farmers should be to adopt organic, no-till practices. Valorising waste organic matter using fermentation to produce high quality bokashi compost would significantly improve soil health with little investment in infrastructure.

4.2.  Consumers should be able to participate. Soil health is emerging in the public interest and assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor should incorporate sustainable soil management to allow consumers to selectively support sustainable producers. Therefore, there should be a minimum standard of soil health parameters that qualify a farmer for practicing good soil sustainability.

  1. Summary

February 2023