A series of free guides for farmers seeking advice on soil husbandry has been launched by the UK Soil Health Initiative (UKSHi).
The simple guides cover practical ways farmers can improve soil health. Covering six different farming systems – including combinable cropping, root crops and field vegetables – were developed by bringing together the UK’s top academics and practitioners.
The broad, cross-industry collaboration that developed the advice was brought together by the UK Soil Health Initiative, the WWF-Tesco Partnership and Championing the Farmed Environment (CFE) to help identify actions that can be taken on-farm.
Thje partnership sees taking steps to improve soil health as a vital part of future-proofing farms against the challenges of climate change and changing government support, by supporting good yields and reducing environmental impacts.
Elizabeth Stockdale, head of farming systems research at NIAB, said: “These simple, practical guides mark a real step forward in helping farmers manage their soil, for the benefit of all.
“Each guide contains a simple starting place of three things to consider – and three things to avoid. We’d love all farmers to start with that. It would make a real difference to our soils – potentially improving crop yields, alleviating flooding and improving biodiversity.
“For any farmers that want to do more, the ‘Going beyond the norm’ section of the guides gives advice on more advanced soil management options.”
WWF-UK sustainable agriculture specialist Callum Weir described the cross-industry support in putting the guides together as invaluable. The guides contained real-life, practical advice to help farmers manage their soils sustainably, he added.
Experts from different backgrounds had aligned behind the message contained in the six guides. “It really is worth the whole industry taking a look and these guides and implementing the messages contained within them.”
Improving soil health is set to be a cornerstone of the government’s forthcoming Sustainable Farming Incentive, which is due to be launched next year. The scheme is currently being piloted with almost 1000 farmers signing up to take part.
Farmers will be paid £30-59/ha for looking after soils under the arable and horticultural soils standard. But they will earn only £6-£8/ha in payments made under the improved grassland soils standard.
“The Sustainable Farming Incentive will allow farmers to take a fresh look at the land they farm, the natural assets they have and decide what will work best for their own individual holding,” said Defra secretary George Eustice.
“It will reward approaches to farm husbandry such as encouraging integrated pest management, improving soil health and enhancing hedgerows. Assets that were previously dubbed ineligible features will finally have their value recognised.”
The guides can be downloaded at www.bit.ly/SoilGuidance
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