The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just published a 48-page strategy document called Safeguarding our Soils. The driving concern behind the document, as Hilary Benn explains, is that: “good quality soils are essential to achieve Defra’s goals of a thriving farming sector and a sustainable, healthy food supply".
The government plans to sort things out by “improving our evidence base, providing information and guidance to those who are actively managing our soils, and using regulation and incentives". Rarely will you find a worse example of governmental idiocy, arrogance, meddling and incompetence.
It is idiotic because farmers do not need regulation and incentives to encourage them to look after their soil. They have a pretty good reason to do so already – because they have to grow stuff in it.
It is arrogant because the government feign to know more about soil than farmers themselves. Farmers are in the best position to determine the optimal usage of their land, bearing in mind the costs and benefits of different strategies in particular circumstances. If further research is needed, then the farmers who stand to benefit will fund it.
It is meddlesome because the government have no right to tell landowners what to do with their land. If I want to dig up all the fertile, healthy soil in my field and replace it with salty, lifeless dust then that’s my business alone.
And it is incompetent because the farming regulations are an insanely complicated bureaucratic muddle. This new strategy comes on top of the EU Thematic Strategy on Soil Protection, CAP cross compliance, Environmental Stewardship, the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative and the new Code of Good Agricultural Practice.
Central planning of food production failed in Soviet Russia, it failed in Maoist China and it fails today in Stalinist North Korea. The best thing the government can do to safeguard our soil is to do nothing at all, and in the words of Arthur Young, let “the magic of property turn sand to gold".