26th February 2021
The claim that our soils only have a limited number of harvests in them has become the call to arms for the soil health cause – the slogan chosen by campaigners, scientists – even Environment Ministers to distil soil down to a single, simple, memorable and urgent message.
But what is the evidence to support this claim? And is it even the right question? Does it help or hinder our understanding of the state of our soils, and so contribute to unlocking the changes in farming practice needed to guarantee long-term soil health and productivity?
To debate this issue, we assembled three speakers with very different backgrounds and experiences. Each gave short presentations on the topic, which was followed by 30mins of comments, questions and suggestions from the audience.
The event was chaired by Bridget Emmett of uksoils and UKCEH with Anna Krzywoszynska of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield, Soil Care Network & uksoils as moderator.
The event was recorded; see the video below.
Dan’s passion for soils research germinated in 2012 when he studied mobile debris lobes in Alaska during a Royal Geographical Society Scholarship. Since then, he has been working on various aspects of soil science; he produced the first globally-relevant estimates of soil lifespans. His research has featured in The Conversation, on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, and Farmer’s Weekly. He is based at Cranfield University.
In my work, I have sought to integrate several scientific disciplines (Ecology, Biogeography, Agronomy, Archeology and Anthropology) to be able to produce interdisciplinary works, in large scale, and broad social interest. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Graduate Program in Ecology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), with the objective of knowing the cultural dimension present in the forests of South America and planning strategies for the use, management and conservation of native vegetation based on ancient and scientific ecological knowledge.
Simon Cowell won the 2018 Soil farmer of The Year competition organised by Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture. He started getting interested in soil and its biology twenty years ago and has been improving his heavy clay soils by stopping all tillage, making and applying highly biologically active compost and building mycorrhizal fungi populations.
As background to the debate you may want to have a look at these online resources:
uksoils is a consortium of scientific, campaigning and awareness raising organisations, all with a specialist knowledge of soil health, founded by UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sustainable Soils Alliance, Earthwatch and University of Sheffield.