Tyres on soils© Tim Scrivener

Michael Gove has pledged to make protecting soil health a central pillar of farming policy and the system of farm support that will replace the CAP.

The Defra secretary said the state of the UK’s soils had reached an emergency situation and the government must act to protect both future productivity and biodiversity.

“What no country can withstand is the loss of its soil and its fertility, and therefore there is an emergency,” he told the parliamentary launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) in the House of Commons on Monday (23 October).

See also: Read the latest news and features on soil health

Mr Gove welcomed the formation of the SSA, saying its creation could not be timelier.

Incentivise change

“The signal is at red and the alarm bell is ringing and we have heard it in Defra and that’s why we are taking steps, and we know we need to go further in order to ensure that the most important of natural resources; the capacity of the earth to renew itself and to provide us with food and so much more,” said Mr Gove.

The Defra secretary said he had already committed to providing the necessary funding to allow the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to undertake soil monitoring properly for the first time in a decade in the 25-year environment plan.

He added UK policy has incentivised farmers to farm in a way that increases yields in the short term, but ultimately undercuts future fertility and they must be supported to make the change for the better.

“We all know that our farmers are the original friends of the earth. We have incentivised and encouraged a type of farming in this country which has damaged the earth,” said Mr Gove.

“Farmers know that and they want support to change and that’s what we intend to do, not just in the environment plan, but also in the Agricultural Bill that we want to bring forward and the new form of support that we want to generate.

But he added: “It’s not our job at the centre to dictate exactly what every farmer should do.”