Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:12 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Helen Browning:

Jack may want to come in on this as well. Generally, it would be about moving into more rotational farming systems, which is usually integrating grassland with growing cover crops. Reducing tillage can sometimes help, although it is not always the way through. Some of the agroforestry opportunities are there too. Rotational farming systems usually improve soil health.

Another is making sure that manures and other inputs are going back on to the soil. One of the things that I have a complete hysteria about is the burning of straw for fuel, when it should be going back to the land—that carbon should be going back to the land. It is about making sure that carbon-based inputs are being recycled into our soils and that we are not damaging those soils by over-heavy machinery, which is a big problem—I am looking forward to the days of little robots running around doing our work for us, rather than all the great machines that are crushing our soils to death—or about leaving soils bare over the winter or even during the summer months.

There is a whole host of well-known factors. A lot of those come together, obviously, within an organic farming system, which is demonstrated to have much higher levels of soil organic matter on average, which is the key indicator that we are looking at in our soil. We know how to do some of those basics.

Moving towards targets for soils at a farm level is difficult, because every soil type is different and will have different capabilities, so we need to be careful about how we use the metrics. We know enough about what husbandry methods we need to be encouraging, however. Good mixed farming is a good place to start.