THERE ARE widespread soil-related problems that need to be addressed by farmers, say soil scientists – the evidence speaks for itself.

The National Soil Resources Institute provided much of the research for both the Environment Agency‘s State of Soils report and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Soil Action Plan.

NSRI development manager Dick Thompson said their evidence suggests there are widespread problems that farmers may not even be aware of.

“We know there has been a general loss of organic matter, for example, which is very easy to lose but difficult to get back,” he says.

This was borne out from organic matter surveys of a range of topsoils carried out in 1979-81, and then repeated in 1995.

The results show content has fallen by an average 0.5% across all soils, with less than a seventh of soils now containing more than 7% organic matter content.

“We know there is a widespread problem with erosion too, but gullies through arable fields is not the only evidence you need,” he says.

“Any river or water course that runs muddy is farmland silt being washed away.”

But just knowing there is a problem has not begun to solve it, says Mr Thompson.

What damage a loss of organic matter causes, for example, or even if it has a detrimental effect can be very farm-specific.

The institute needs more good quality information to provide advice that is useful at farm level, says Mr Thompson, but this will require more funding.

“The trouble is that soil is always seen as the Cinderella of natural resources.

“We need to be able to give farm-specific advice, but we simply don‘t know our soils to that level of detail.”