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Harnessing our collective strengths to bring about a step change in more sustainable soil health practices over the next decade

Professors John Crawford (Adam Smith Business School – University of Glasgow) and Hugh Harley (School of Economics - University of Sydney) together with Alan Hendry (Director of Sustainability, Mott MacDonald), Steve Holmes & Paul Grant (University of Glasgow) are working with a consortium of major corporates to implement a global framework for the improvement of soil health and the sequestration of carbon in soils.

Carbon sequestration in soil offers both globally significant potential to reduce atmospheric carbon, and simultaneously, improve soil health to deliver additional water security and biodiversity benefits. This is within a context where, on current trajectories, up to 90% of soil, upon which we rely for food production and water management, will be degraded by 2050.

Unlike carbon sequestration through tree planting, there is currently no global framework for carbon trading, accounting, or quality assurance for soil. Nor is there is a mechanism to link carbon emitters with the agricultural sector that can deliver carbon sequestration and thereby improved soil health. The Universities of Glasgow and Sydney are jointly leading the Global Soil Health Programme delivered via a precompetitive consortium including Bayer, BASF, UPL, Shell, RaboBank, Microsoft and PWC to address this gap.

 

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In 2015, the UK pledged to be Net Zero by 2050, with the NFU striving for the more ambitious target of 2040. Net Zero is achieved when the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted is balanced with those removed from the atmosphere. This helps to combat climate change and reduce global warming. Whilst contributing to 10% of the total GHG emissions, the agricultural industry sits in the unique position of controlling a significant land base that can be used to implement natural solutions to climate change, such as capturing carbon via sequestration into soils and vegetation.

There is a lot of interest in soil carbon currently, due to the opportunity to store and sequester carbon in soil. It is also vital for soil health, forming part of soil organic matter.

The intricate web of relationships between physical, chemical and biological soil components underpins crop and livestock health and productivity. Protecting soil health is also critical to environmental sustainability, as soils: • Exchange gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, with the atmosphere • Regulate the flow of water and rainfall in the water cycle • Provide nutrients for plant growth, by breaking down organic matter and altering chemical fertilisers • Transform and store organic materials, as part of the terrestrial carbon cycle • Degrade contaminants applied through human activities or left by floods and aerial deposition A healthy soil is able to sustain, in the long term, these important functions. In a healthy soil, the interactions between chemistry (pH, nutrients and contaminants), physics (soil structure and water balance) and biology (including earthworms, microbes and plant roots) are optimised for the conditions in that place.   View more from AHDB GREAT Soils. Share resources you find helpful below.