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Further details about next year's launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) were made by Defra secretary George Eustice at last month's Cereals event.... How ELMs will support soil health

Further details about next year’s launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) were made by Defra secretary George Eustice at last month’s Cereals event.

Mr Eustice confirmed that soil health will be at the heart of Defra’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. The aim is to reverse soil erosion and degradation – and pay farmers to improve soil health, he said.

Two of three SFI standards to be rolled out next year by the government aim to restore soils. They are the arable and horticultural soils standard; and the improved grassland soils standard.

Farmers will be paid £26-70/ha for practices that improve soil health.

Long overdue

Recognition of the importance of soils to agriculture is long overdue. Healthy soils are essential for food security. Yet almost one third of the world’s arable soils have been lost to erosion and pollution over the last 40 years.

In the UK, we lose an estimated 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil each year, costing around £45 million per year, of which £9 million is in lost production and lower yields, reducing the profitability of UK farms.

Increasing soil organic matter – and by extension soil carbon – through methods such as cover-cropping and min-till, will also help meet Net Zero targets, something that the government is keen to deliver against.

Improving UK soil health will also increase its water holding capacity – helping to reduce flooding. This will become increasingly important as extreme weather events become more frequent due to climate change.

As the SFI is rolled out, further measures to support soil health are likely. Farm consultants are well positioned to help growers and livestock producers adopt the most appropriate standards for their own situation.

Honor May Eldridge is an environmental consultant for Wilson Wraight. Call 01284 334483 or visit www.wilsonwraight.co.uk

Read more about soil health – “Soil health unlocked by new analysis