With 2015 being the International year of soils, the importance of the quality of the UK’s soils should become a hot topic for all those working in farming. This year’s Agricultural Engineers annual conference takes place at Newcastle University on Wednesday 20th May and will focus on new tools for water management and how engineering can develop and support their adoption.
According to the IAgrE president, Mark Kibblethwaite, organic matter in the UK’s soils is declining, whilst compaction and erosion are widespread. Supporting these comments, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations reports that 22 per cent of soil is moderately, to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinisation, compaction and chemical pollution. More efficient use of water, reduced usage of pesticides and improvements in soil health could lead to crop yield increases of up to 79 per cent.
According to IAgrE, farmers are beginning to realise that practices must change to help soils flourish and they are being encouraged to plant trees to prevent erosion. Shelter belts of hedges can help to improve water infiltration rates of compacted soils by some 60 times within around three years of being planted, and hedges also help to control soil erosion by the elements and are very important for overall soil protection.
Because soil is so instrumental in the provision of our food, storage of rainwater, nutrients and carbon, and shelter to a number of living organisms, the processes of erosion, compaction, loss of organic matter all threaten human health and wellbeing, according to IAgrE.