“Never has the health of our soils, its environmental and monetary value been higher on the agenda for both our clients and potential investors seeking to enter the sector in which we operate,” comments Alex Bragg, Director of Food & Farming for Savills, sponsor of the exclusive farmer Q&A session with keynote speaker Prof David Montgomery of the University of Washington in Seattle.
Professor Montgomery, author of Growing a Revolution, has a global view of soil health. Within his keynote address he discussed ways to manage soils health and gave examples of successful soil regeneration. He says: “I have seen how the recipe of minimal disturbance, keeping the soil covered with living plants at all times and growing at least three or more crops in rotation works on farms around the world.
“The simplest advice boils down to ‘ditch the plough, cover up and grow diversity’. However, there is also an urgent need for innovation to accelerate soil building.”
Alex observed that soil health is top of mind for those involved in agriculture: “We have an unmissable opportunity to understand more of David’s experiences and lessons learnt as we approach a new era of agriculture in the UK.”
Reward for public goods is one element of the UK agricultural strategy but difficult to measure. Prof Montgomery observes: “We should incentivise practices that build soil health by linking specific verifiable practices, like no-till and cover crops, to credits based on regionally calibrated studies to establish an expected benefit, such as increase in carbon content or maintenance of it in the soil. This would reward farmers not only for increasing carbon but also for good practice that has helped retain it.”
Carbon storage is a source of revenue for farmers. Tools for monitoring, measuring and managing soil carbon could provide metrics for rewarding best practice. The technology that is needed to underpin this was discussed during REAP and the farmer session was an opportunity to reflect on the implications for land management.