UK Government puts soil health at the heart of new land scheme, advantaging organic 

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The role of organic farming in addressing climate change, soil health and biodiversity is recognised in a major new UK Government scheme. 

Details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which comes into effect in 2022, were unveiled yesterday in a speech by the environment secretary, George Eustice

Public goods focus
The SFI forms part of three new environmental land management schemes intended to overhaul food and farming policy following Britain’s departure from the EU. Through this scheme, farmers will be paid to produce ‘public goods’ such as water quality, biodiversity, animal health and welfare and climate change mitigation, alongside food production. The Government says these public goods are essential to meeting its 25 Year Environment Plan, Net Zero and animal health and welfare goals.

The Government says it wants to see large-scale adoption of the SFI, with a targeted 70% of farms and farmland in the scheme by 2028. 

Soil health and fertility targets are a major plank of the first phase of the scheme and will contribute towards Britain’s efforts to reach Net Zero. If by 2028 the soil standards cover 50% to 70% of eligible agricultural soil in England, this could save approximately 330 to 460 thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2028. 

New organic standard
The Government says it recognises the “benefits that organic farming can offer to the wider environment”, and is actively exploring how the SFI can reward organic producers and farmers looking at converting to organic systems. It adds that “a future UK organic standard, would provide an easily accessible, holistic package for organic farmers”, while in the meantime “organic farmers can take part in the early rollout of the SFI and are likely to be well placed to adopt the higher levels of ambition in the soils standards”.

Two of the examples of environmental good practices cited in the minister’s speech yesterday – Pollybell Farm and James Robinson – were organic producers.

Image: Defra (via YouTube)

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