The UK will experience a ‘fundamental eradication of soil fertility’ in 30 to 40 years from now, according to Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
Speaking at a parliamentary launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA), Gove blamed intensive farming practices for the loss of soil fertility.
“We have encouraged a type of farming which has damaged the earth,” he said.
“Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.”
Gove explained that intensive farming techniques involving the heavy use of chemicals have affected the fertility of the soil.
He said: “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.”
The National Farmers Union [NFU], seems to have changed its stance somewhat. The organization is known for defending intensive farming, but published a blog on the importance of soil management.
According to chair Mark Pope: “We only get one lot of soil on our farms, so poor management could have major, irreversible impacts for many years to come.”
Tackling the issue
In July, the environment secretary announced that the UK would not use ‘US-style farming’, and would prioritize ‘high environmental and animal welfare standards’.
As one of the leaders of the Leave campaign, Gove is under pressure to ensure post-Brexit environment and agriculture policy is successful.
He argues that farmers need to be incentivized to tackle the issue of soil fertility and the decline in biodiversity – hence why he’s hoping the newly-formed SSA body will bring the UK soils back to health within one generation.
Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, wants to see ‘a new agricultural revolution’.
“The UK used to be the world’s leading agronomic centre, and could be again,” he argues.
Last week, scientists warned of an ‘ecological armageddon‘ due to a dramatic decline of insect numbers over the past 25 years.