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It’s all about the soil

Date Published: 27/03/2013

Too often the conversation around organic methods of food production gets hauled off onto a side track. People (often in very public forums) can become obsessed with arguments around real or perceived  nutritional benefits or whether organic farming is higher or lower in CO2, etc, etc.

What is too often forgotten in the public discourse  is that the organic farming of crops, in whatever agricultural or horticultural form, is all about the soil they come out of. That’s the main resource we absolutely have to protect. Organic farming methods go out of their way not to strip nutrients and, in fact, to boost them and to leave at least as much, if not more, of the good stuff in the soil at the end of a growing cycle as there was at the start.

That fundamental importance of the soil is not unique to organic farming, because all of the world’s soil is, collectively, one of our most precious resources, even if it’s not always respected and protected as such. We keep hearing that more and more food is needed, while at the same time the climate seems to be lurching to ever greater extremes which will make ever harder the task of producing that extra food.

This is why we are keen to share details of an initiative that seems to be, for want of a better expression, a ‘no-brainer’. Carole Shorney, who is the secretary of South East Essex Organic Gardeners, has started a petition calling on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, to ensure that our best quality soils are protected whenever planning applications are considered which impact on agricultural land.

You can read Carole’s argument in full on the web page for her petition which asks Mr Pickles to take this issue seriously. In short, however, the demand that the quality of agricultural land was taken into account when judging planning applications was downgraded in the 1980s, prior to which it was a key consideration. Now, as we come to realise that we are more and more likely to need our best land, Carole and her colleagues are asking for a collective voice to highlight this to the powers-that-be and once again enshrine the protection of our most productive land in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Here’s the argument in Carole’s own words:

‘Why is it possible for developers to build on our ‘Best and Most Versatile agricultural land (BMV)’ – because it’s land that will never feed another mouth again.

The answer’s in my petition, which I hope you’ll sign — it’s called: Safeguard our Soils, Mr. Pickles!
To summarise for anyone else who hasn’t been and signed the petition, it’s worth doing. The aim of this is to stop the government allowing prime agricultural land to be bought by developers. It used to be the case, when Britain supplied most of its own food, that good quality land was kept for agricultural purposes, not housing/other buildings. Now we are giving away some of our best sites to supermarkets.

Please read more about it at this link, sign and pass on:


So, we might not be able to save all of the countryside from new high speed railways and the march of new home building spurred on by the Chancellor’s latest budget (and there are arguments on all sides of these issues), but it does seem ruthlessly logical that the line should be drawn at concreting over the farmland that can feed us most effectively.

If you agree, you too can sign the petition. After all, even the world’s finest organic farmers can’t do anything with soil that sits under three feet of concrete and a new three-bed semi…