Could a co-product from paper recycling help farmers to improve soil health and building carbon stocks? Greenworld Ltd, a recycling and waste management company, together with The University of East Anglia (UEA) are to discuss how Paper Crumble can be used to enrich soil, giving arable farmland a boost of nutrients, organic matter and increase its potential as a long-term carbon sink.
Brian Reid, Professor of Soil Science and Associate Dean for Science (Innovation) at the University of East Anglia, explains that as the Agriculture Bill unfolds farmers will be paid to ensure land management is optimised and to increase soil carbon stocks.
While fossil fuels are often highlighted as the main protagonist of climate change, in actual fact losses of soil carbon have had an equally important impact on the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“Soil carbon enables soil to self-structure, and thus increases water infiltration, increase water storage and decreases the risk of flooding,” says Brian. “It is also the cornerstone to soil health and soil function. Soil microbial communities drive the transformation of soil nutrients and supply these nutrients to the crops, they regulate pathogen population that infect crops and they degrade chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides, thereby stopping their build-up in soils. But to function properly these microbes need soil carbon.”
Collectively, these ‘services’ are considered in today’s vernacular as ‘goods’. DEFRA is seeking to use public money, under the new Agriculture Bill, to pay for public goods. This could be a win-win for farmers, as increasing soil carbon stocks is a short circuit to improving soil health and delivering public goods. “We are at an exciting transition where governments are appreciating the role soils have in re-sequestering and storing carbon”.
UEA is working with Greenworld to explore the potential of Paper Crumble (PC) to improve soils and improve the delivery of public goods. Although PC has been applied to land for many years, with varied trials on soil structure, limited research has been done with regard to carbon capture.
Steve Kilham, Director of Greenworld based in Kings Lynn, explains: “PC can be applied to land under agreement from the Environment Agency. Permits for land spreading are granted where there will be no detriment to the receiving soil and where benefits can be asserted. We were keen to work with UEA to quantify the benefits to farmers of using PC and the results are promising.”
Brian continues: “The NFU has a Net Zero 2040 aspiration to neutralise the carbon footprint of farming. Within this aspiration is the vision to make gains through improved soil carbon management and interventions that will build soil carbon stocks. We are looking forward to talking to famers and growers about the opportunities to increase soil carbon and achieving Net Zero on the farm to help realise this vision.”