Speak up for soil health at Oxford Real Farming Conference

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  • The chance to share ideas for the government’s promised Soil Health Action Plan for England (SHAPE) is on offer at an event at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC)

Hosted by the Soil Association and the Sustainable Soils Alliance, the interactive session will look at soil conservation and explore ideas on what policy is needed to protect this “vital resource”.

Ideas put forward at the “Getting Soils into SHAPE” event on the second day of ORFC – Friday 7 Jan – will be collated and sent onto Defra, with the hope of influencing the action plan. The session is also hoping to hear the latest on the action plan from a government minister.

Soil Association Head of Policy Gareth Morgan, who will chair the discussion, said: “We were disappointed this year when MPs missed the opportunity to include a soil health target in the Environment Bill, as proposed by the House of Lords, which would have helped to reverse the historic neglect of this vital resource. Soil should be an equal policy priority with water, air quality and biodiversity, to reflect its huge importance and potential to support wildlife and capture carbon.

“But the promised Soil Health Action Plan was a key victory for our campaign to see soils taken seriously in tackling the climate and nature crises. Now, we must ensure this plan is not half-hearted. Our virtual event at Oxford will be a great opportunity for us to get our heads together and ensure government hears valuable insights from the farming world on what this action plan should look like. We hope to see a wide range of ideas on the table.”

Joining Gareth on the panel will be Soil Association’s Liz Bowles, head of farming, and Adrian Steele, organic sector advisor, alongside WWF UK’s Callum Weir, Sustainable Soils Alliance Director Matthew Orman, and farmers James Alexander and Sophie Alexander.

Pest control without chemicals, the perks of trees on farms, and “culturally appropriate” vegetables will also feature at the conference in other sessions with the Soil Association.

Nature-friendly farming will be central to the nine sessions being hosted or supported by the Soil Association, which are being ran virtually due to the conference moving online for the 2022 event.

The panel discussions will look at farming challenges amid the climate, nature and health crises, with a focus on agroecological solutions.

Despite the scheduled Innovative Farmers Great Beer Debate being postponed until 2023, insights from the network’s farmer-led research on hops will still be on offer for ORFC virtual attendees.

The “Farmer-led research to banish pests without pesticides” event, taking place on day two of the conference, will look to share findings from the field lab that is using predatory mites to control spider mites in hops.

At Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), Soil Association head of farming and OFC Director Liz Bowles will also be chairing a session looking at ‘The Farm of the Future’. Taking place at 8.30am on Friday 7 Jan, this will explore the concept of family in agriculture and what business structures farming may follow in the future.

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