THE LAUNCH of the government‘s Soil Action Plan has been overshadowed by farmer fury at the Environment Agency‘s State of Soils report.

Somerset farmer Archie Montgomery, representing the National Farmers Union at the launch on Thurs (May 21) , said the EA report was inaccurate, out-of-date and would not help engage farmers.

“It is not based on fact, but on half-truths verging on the dishonest,” he said.

He broadly welcomed the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plan which sets a route map to maintain and protect England‘s soils.

But he said it was a “paradox” it had been launched so soon after the EA report, which singled out farmers as major contributors to widespread damage of soils.

“It concerns us that this one-size-fits-all approach might be incorporated in measures such as cross-compliance.”

Mr Montgomery ignored attempts from Lord Whitty to silence the outburst in front of around 50 leading soil scientists, representatives from environmental groups and journalists.

“Any approach to improve soil management must be science-based and practical if it is to have any chance of gaining farmer acceptance,” he said.

But EA chief executive Barbara Young defended the agency‘s report, pointing out it was based on the “best available research and evidence”.

“I‘m disappointed that the NFU is trying to rubbish it,” she said.

Farmers would run the risk of extra restrictions or disallowance of payments if they did not take note of the environmental consequences of their actions, she warned.

“It‘s not too much to ask for £3 billion of public money.”

But the EA would be looking on a catchment-by-catchment and even field-by-field basis to see where the problems were coming from, she assured.

Others at the launch welcomed DEFRA‘s action plan, but stressed the need to bring farmers on board.

“If we want to make real progress we have to bring farmers and land managers along with us,” said Anglia University‘s Bob Evans.