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16.07.15 IYS2015 The Soil Atlas

The Soil Atlas 2015 presents facts and figures about earth, land and fields; its broad ranging significance and its current state in Germany, Europe and the world.

Price explosions and land speculation, increasing soil loss as a result of erosion and sealing, the effects of globalised agro-industry on production and food availability across the globe, the problems associated with the land distribution all impact on the management and risks for soils that we need to grow productive crops and feed the growing population.  These are all looked at in this new soil atlas.

The Soil Atlas provides insights into the current state of the soils on which we depend and highlights the threats posed to them in numerous illustrations and texts.

The Soil Atlas 2015 aims to inform and improve the ability of consumers to make informed decisions and sketches out pathways to a responsible agriculture and soil policy.

Download the atlas here. For more information on other soil resources for the International Year of Soils click here.

For more information on practical ways to build and maintain soils please visit the soils pages of the FCCT Toolkit.

10.07.15 Sustainable Intensification Platform, first newsletter out now

The Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) is a multi –partner research platform funded by Defra to explore the opportunities and risks for sustainable intensification, from a range of perspectives and at a range of scales across England and Wales.

There are three linked interdisciplinary research                                                                                          projects:

SIP 1: Integrated Farm Management for improved economic, environmental and social performance

SIP 2: Opportunities and risks for farming and the environment at a landscape scale

SIP 3: A scoping study on the influence of external drivers and actors on the sustainability and productivity of England and Welsh farming

The projects are being delivered by a consortium of academic research institutions as well as farming and environmental organisations.

What’s happening now

The first newsletter from the SIP network is now available to read. This edition of SIP Scene essentially forms an introduction to SIP and outlines the planned research as well as containing some wider thought pieces and views from in and around the Platform.

Download the current version here.

To make sure that you don’t miss out on subsequent versions, why not sign up to receive it straight to your inbox, by emailing Jennifer Preston at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

10.07.15 The living kingdom beneath our feet - video

Did you know that soils support more life beneath their surface than exists above? Soil is a living, dynamic resource at the surface of the earth. It is a complex habitat of mineral and organic particles; living organisms including plant roots, microbes, and larger animals; and pores filled with air or water. In a thimble full of soil—about a gram in weight—you can expect to find 100 million to 1 billion bacteria! This video explores the living kingdoms beneath our feet and helps illustrate the fact that soils support more life beneath their surface than what exists above the surface What is a living soil? It’s where the plant and the soil are one. This is symbiosis at its best.

09.07.15 Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: 2015 Progress report to Parliament

This report compiled by the Committee on Climate Change was released at the end of June. This is the Committee’s first report to the new Parliament on the progress we are making towards meeting the UK’s emissions reductions targets.

Reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change provide the opportunity to drive innovation, support growth, contribute to improved health, develop effective and resilient infrastructure and minimise the disruptions caused by flooding, water scarcity and other climate change risks.

The full report is available to view here, along with broken down technical reports into each of the main areas that have been studied. These areas are electricity, buildings transport, infrastructure and land and water management. Unsurprisingly I will be concentrating for the rest of this report on the information regarding agriculture, but if you are interested there is much more information on the others here.

What’s in the report?

The report deals with three things:

As assessment of progress to date to reduce GHG emissions and prepare for the impact of climate change including recommended actions

A more detailed report on the progress to date towards meeting C budgets and the UK’s statutory targets to reduce emissions in 2050 by at least 80% from 1990 levels.

Details on progress being made to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

What are the main recommendations for agriculture?

The overarching recommendation is to preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital in order to sustain agricultural productivity in a changing climate, maximise Carbon sequestration and safeguard the natural environment.

Within the report there are firm measures to preserve fertility and organic content or agricultural soils to achieve the goal of all soils to be sustainably managed by 2030. As well as this, it is recommended to accelerate efforts to restore natural assets and counter long term declines in ecological conditions of the farm countryside, and review effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in controlling protected peat land sites that are of international importance in terms of their natural capital.

Climate change and the UK

The report concludes that the global climate is changing. Sea levels have risen about 20cm and the average surface temperature has risen by 0.8%. Greenhouse gas emissions affect lives in the UK. Action is needed in this Parliament to ensure the pace of emissions reductions accelerates whilst still supporting economic growth.

What action do we need?

Targeted and coordinated actions to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions are needed. Decisions in the new parliament will largely determine how much progress is made to 2030 and beyond. The Committee for Climate Change have recommended five main actions for parliament during this time.

Electricity – ensure the power sector can invest with a 10 year lead time

Buildings – Develop plans and policies that deliver low carbon heat and energy efficiency, whilst also addressing the increasing risk of heat stress and flooding

Transport – maintain support for the up-front costs of electric vehicles

Infrastructure – make decisions that help reduce emissions and improve the resilience of infrastructure networks and services during periods of extreme weather

Agriculture, land and water management- preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital

Latest progress

Emissions reductions progress – provisional emissions for 2014 indicate that UK domestic GHG emissions were 520 MtCo2e. This is an 8% decrease compared with 2013. Emissions are now 36% below 1990 levels. This large reduction across the economy was driven by falls in emissions from buildings, industry and power generation, many of which reflect one-off changes and uncertain factors rather than replicable trends. Also it is important to point out at this stage that emissions estimates for agriculture, waste and other non CO2 sources are not yet available.


Three priority areas (these aren’t agriculture specific)

Low carbon investment – many low carbon policies and funding streams have no certainty beyond the new few years, which prevents efficient investment in low carbon technologies and their supply chains which often have long lead times and payback periods.

Developing future options and innovations – many of the technologies that could contribute to meeting the 2050 target are still developing in terms of cost and performance. Governments need to maintain a clear future market for low carbon products.

Low carbon choices – how lifestyles continue to change and people make decisions will continue to determine whether we continue to reduce emissions.

What are the adaptation priorities for agriculture?

Improving the fertility of agricultural soils

Improving / maintaining the ecological condition of the farmed countryside

Water demand by agriculture

Flooding of agricultural land

Innovation / knowledge transfer; sharing of ideas and best practice

Maintaining / improving the ecological condition of terrestrial habitats (as well as freshwater, riparian and marine environment as well).

The deal with soils

This report makes a big deal on soils, and concludes that soil erosion and the loss of organic carbon is an important issue. It continues, “Agricultural soils are being degraded by intensive farming practices in some areas with deep ploughing, short rotations and exposed ground leading to soil erosion from wind and heavy rain. Although the soil erosion risk may be decreasing, the rate of loss is not sustainable as soil takes a long time to form. Water shortages and drier soil conditions put the profitability of farming in some areas at risk, reducing the productivity of UK farming.”

There is a governmental ambition for all soils to be used sustainably by 2030. At the moment this initiative is in its ‘evidence gathering’ phase until 2016 at which point it will be followed by a plan of action.

What happens now?

This report outlines how the committee on climate change considers the best way to be to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change cost effectively. The progress against these goals will be reviewed in 2016 and the government needs to respond to this report by October of this year (as well as work at how it is going to make up the shortfall for the 4th Carbon budget (2023 – 27).

What are the recommendations for agriculture?

Deliver the Smart Inventory

Defra is working to better understand and measure how biological systems and different farming practices impact on emissions. This will allow for a more sophisticated methodology for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions.

Strengthen the current voluntary approach to reduce agricultural emissions

Assess the effectiveness of the current Greenhouse gas action plan (GHGAP) scheme which is an industry led initiative which sets out how the agricultural industry is responding to the challenges of feeding a growing population with less impact.

Co-ordinate efforts across four nations

Ensuring that measures being implemented across the four nations are feasible, cost effective and consistent with low carbon budgets. No mean feat!

So watch this space to see what happens next. In the meantime to find out what you can do to reduce GHGs on your farm and improve efficiency and profit; why not check out the Toolkit?

09.07.15 Study: Crop Rotation Has Positive Impact On Soil Microbial Communities

A study authored by Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences assistant professor Lisa Tiemann is the first of its kind to show that crop rotations, in isolation from other management factors, can increase the functions performed by soil microbial communities that benefit plant growth. The findings were published online May 25 in Ecology Letters, a highly selective peer-reviewed journal.

Research for the project took place at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, an MSU research center in Hickory Corners, Michigan, northeast of Kalamazoo. In the paper, Tiemann and her co-authors address the relationships among crop rotational diversity, soil structure, microbial community structure and activity, and soil organic matter chemistry.

“Although the aboveground benefits of crop diversity have been well-documented, the belowground effects remain uncertain,” Tiemann said. “Understanding how crop diversity alters microbial community dynamics and the specific mechanisms controlling positive impacts of biodiversity belowground is critical for sustainable soil management."

A byproduct of increased pressure on soils from agricultural intensification is a negative impact on microbial diversity. Over-farming is problematic worldwide and can lessen soil’s ability to perform important ecosystem functions. Results may include threats to long-term food security, increases in greenhouse gas emission, flooding and a reduction in water quality.

Researchers sought to combat these challenges through crop rotation, restoring positive interactions above- and belowground by increasing biodiversity. The group concluded that a diverse set of crops can sustain soil biological communities, with positive effects on soil organic matter and soil fertility.

“The data we present are the first to support the hypothesis that increasing rotational diversity fundamentally changes microbial community structure and activity, with positive effects on aggregate formation and soil organic matter accrual,” Tiemann said. “These findings provide further support for the use of rotational diversity as a viable management practice for promoting agroecosystem sustainability.”

Tiemann, whose work is funded in part by MSU AgBioResearch, indicated that this knowledge can ultimately be used to help land managers determine how to maximize soil sustainability, particularly in low-input cropping systems.

Co-authors for the study are Stuart Grandy and Marshall McDaniel, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire; and Emily Atkinson and Erika Marin-Spiotta, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study was supported by the USDA Soil Processes Program, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the U.S. National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program.

Source: Crop life 

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