Farming News - UK is 40 years away from 'eradication of soil fertility',warns Gove

UK is 40 years away from 'eradication of soil fertility',warns Gove

25 Oct 2017

Parts of Britain’s farmland are just 30 to 40 years away from becoming barren wastelands, Michael Gove warned yesterday at the parliamentary of the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) .


Intensive farming, chemical sprays, and use of heavy machinery is leading to ‘the fundamental eradication of soil fertility’, said the Environment Secretary.


Mr Gove said: ‘We have encouraged a type of farming which has damaged the earth” and that he “saw the planting of 11 million trees as part of a programme of making sure our land environment  would be refreshed, replenished and renewed”


The Environment Secretary has criticised intensive farming methods, the use of heavy machinery and the spraying of too many chemicals by British farmers. 

             Photo courtesy NFU

‘Countries can withstand coups d’etat, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.


‘If you have heavy machines churning the soil and impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals that improve yields but in the long term undercut the future fertility of that soil, you can increase yields year on year but ultimately you really are cutting the ground away from beneath your own feet. Farmers know that.’


Mr Gove hoped the SSA, a body formed with the mission of bringing UK soils back to health within a generation, would hold government to account.


Britain’s farms will be in the spotlight as the country exits the European Union – meaning they will no longer be subject to the Common Agricultural Policy.


The government has not been conducting regular soil monitoring since the last Countryside Survey in 2007 but now Environmentalists are increasingly hopeful that, unlike his predecessors at Defra, Gove will take this issue seriously.


Mr Gove has previously signalled he would not want to see ‘US-style’ farming practices in the UK, such as chlorine-washed chicken or GM crops.


His comments also come as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is set to release a new agriculture bill, as well as a 25-year environmental plan.


Intense farming practices, such as deep ploughing, rapid crop-rotation and ever-larger fields free of trees can allow wind and rain to carry away the top layer of soil.


One of the areas most hit by soil erosion has been the East Anglian Fens and according to a report by the Committee on Climate Change, the UK has lost 84 per cent of its fertile topsoil since 1850, with the erosion continuing at a rate of 1cm to 3cm a year.


The National Farmers Union’s chairman Mark Pope, who attended yesterday’s event, said NFU members were increasingly interested in issues of soil fertility.


He said ‘We only get one lot of soil on our farms, so poor management could have major, irreversible impacts for many years to come.’


Helen Browning, head of the Soil Association, which campaigns against intensive farming said people had been ‘bowled over’ by Mr Gove’s comments, adding: ‘There’s been quite a dramatic shift in understanding around what we’re doing to our soils.’


Mr Gove is not the only high profile figure to warn about farming’s impact on our soil.


Back in June, Prince Charles said that the ‘very future of humanity’ may depend on overturning conventional methods and turning to organic farming.


‘The impact of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on the soil biome ... has been so devastating, that it is now being said that we only have enough fertility left for sixty harvests,’ he warned.


You can view Michael Gove’s speech using this link :