More than 250 farms in Yorkshire, covering nearly 10 per cent of the region’s arable land, have seen an improvement in soil health as the result of farming programmes led by Yorkshire Water and food supply chain consultant Future Food Solutions.
The degradation and erosion of topsoil used for farming is a major global issue, as less soil means less carbon locked in the land, which accelerates climate change.
In response, a ‘Sustainable Landscapes’ programme has been created that is working with a number of Yorkshire farms to help increase soil organic matter to make farmland more sustainable and resilient to future climate demands.
A key element of the initiative is to encourage farmers to use fewer pesticide slug pellets, which if used prior to major weather events can impact negatively on river water quality, treatment and supply.
Best-practice agricultural techniques are also being shared with farmers, such as the planting of cover crops, which helps keep soil in the fields and not washed into nearby rivers during heavy rainfall.
This will help tackle the problem of more than 23,000 tonnes of agricultural soil being recovered from Yorkshire Water’s water treatment works on the River Derwent and Ouse each year.
Andrew Walker, catchment strategy manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “One of the key benefits that has come from our work in the uplands was the ‘Land Management guide for Upland areas’.
“Based on the success of that guide, we, as part of the Sustainable Landscapes programme, are launching a Good Soil Guide, which is a practical reference source for farmers to use in the field to inform their understanding of soil health.”
The initiative will also benefit the food supply chain in the UK as a whole by improving the long-term sustainability of farm businesses engaged in the scheme by helping them to reduce inputs such as fertilisers, increase their profits and invest in further efficiency measures in the future.
Richard Bramley, who farms at Kelfield, south of York, and is an active member of the Sustainable Landscapes programme, said: “For British agriculture to face the challenges of the future, we need to do more to strengthen relationships and build confidence in the food supply chain.
“Collaborative initiatives like this help farmers to share ideas and access support from industry-leading experts such as Neil Fuller, the soil scientist who is pivotal to the creation of the Good Soil Guide.”
Steve Cann, director at Future Food Solutions, said: “We have been working with progressive farmers for the last five years, and now the Sustainable Landscapes programme, with the support of Yorkshire Water, has allowed us to concentrate our focus on soil health.
“From an agricultural perspective, improving our performance in this area will be crucial. Building soil carbon and reducing the knock-on effect of climate change will be a key role for the UK farming sector in the future.”