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Costing the Earth - highlighting the importance of soils

3rd Mar 2017

This week, Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, hosted by Tom Heap was entitled Soil Saviours, and focussed on the very interesting question of whether soil can play a role in the fight against climate change.

During the half hour programme, Tom interviewed Professor Pete Smith from Aberdeen University about the science behind soil carbon sequestration and what the science tells us about the potential for soils to help limit global temperature rise, talked to the 4 per mille initiative spearheaded by the French Agricultural minister and now a global phenomenon. He then spoke to a couple of farmers about what is possible on-farm and what the benefits could be agronomically, economically and environmentally of adopting practices that improve soil carbon sequestration.

Now for us here at FCCT none of this is very new, and for those of you who are followers of our work, you will have seen previous blogs that we have written on 4 per mille (of which we are a member), the work from Aberdeen university and others on the science behind it, and also highlighted some of the farmers that are pushing the agenda forward and championing it at the farm level.

This includes our Soil Farmer of the Year competition, aimed at showcasing farmers who are passionate about managing their soils in a way which supports productive agriculture and builds soil resilience and soil life. Through hosting farm walks with last years’ winners as well as other FCCT events looking at soil and soil carbon, we have found that there is lots of farmer interest but a lack of on-farm data, practical examples and a clear policy direction that enables action.

As Professor Pete Smith explained during the programme “there are so many co-benefits to increasing organic matter levels in farm soils (besides reducing carbon dioxide levels) it’s a no-brainer."

But what are the benefits? And how quickly can they happen? Is there a balance between maintaining yield and maximising carbon sequestration? Is there a finite amount we can hold? What data should we be collecting? Can we test for carbon and how long should we be testing for?

These are all questions that we are aiming to answer through our new crowdfunding carbon farming project. Being run by farmers for farmers, the main aim of this project is to use ten farm demonstration sites to answer some of these questions. Working with farmers we will set up monitoring on-farm and collect data on the effect of changing management on soil carbon and try to answer the question of what works and what doesn’t.  We will also use the project to set up a farmer network which will share ideas, practical hints and tips about what works and evaluate the results.

Soil Carbon sequestration is not a magic spell that will solve all our problems in terms of temperature rise and facing up to the environmental impact of activities, but what it does do, is provide a positive opportunity to champion the unique opportunity that farmers and growers have of producing food in a way which safeguards soil and promotes sequestration. By involving farmers and growers in the work, we can make sure that solutions are rooted in good practice and are achievable, but in order to do this work we need your help.

Support this project to enable us to help farmers understand what works and how much of a difference to society we can make. By donating a small amount of money today, we can get this work started and you can be part of the process.

Small things make big things happen.

Join in today.