Deben diggin' in the dirt
Jul 15, 2015
Bishop Hill in Climate: WG2, Deben, Greens

Lord Deben has been speaking at a food industry conference, still exhibiting the pronounced eccentricity we have noted in recent months:

Lord John Deben, a member of the Government’s climate change committee, said there would need to be some ’fundamental changes’ in how the [food] sector operated.

A recent report by the committee warned the UK was in danger of seeing a reduction in productivity because of the damage caused by intensive farming practices.

Lord Deben said soils were degenerating ’so fast it is visible’.

"So far the agricultural community has been blind to what is happening.

"In 30 years the Fens will not produce because of what we have done to it," he said.

So fast it is visible eh? Sounds a little unlikely to me. And what is it that "we have done" to the Fens, I wonder?

Let's take a look at that report. On page 17 of the Progress on Adaptation volume we learn that:

Soils are being degraded in some areas due to land management practices. Soil organic carbon levels deteriorated nationally in arable soils between the 1970s and early 2000s. The on-going loss of lowland peat soils is putting at risk some of the most productive land and largest carbon stores in England. Today, only around 16% of the peat stock in the East Anglian Fens recorded in 1850 remains and much of this will be irreversibly degraded in the next few decades if current land use practices continue. As well as impacting on food production, this scale of carbon loss will also have implications for meeting the UK’s carbon budgets.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you find on page 151 the following:
The available evidence suggests that soil organic carbon is declining nationally in arable soils... Estimates vary but soil organic carbon has been flat or declining over the period from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. There have been particularly marked declines in the most carbon-rich soils, such as peat. The National Soil Inventory reported a decrease in soil organic carbon of about 0.7 grams per kilogram per year in all soils over the period from 1978 to 2003. Although losses on arable soils were lower at around 0.4 grams per kilogram each year, supporting analysis found more significant losses of over 5 grams per kilogram per year on the most carbon-rich arable soils.[31]
The Countryside Survey for England found a decrease in soil organic carbon of about 3 grams per kilogram per year across soils currently under arable and horticultural production. Unlike the National Soil Inventory, however, the Countryside Survey found no significant change in soil organic carbon across all soils for the period from 1978 to 2007.[32]
So some people are finding declines in arable and increases elsewhere. Some are finding small decreases across the board. "So fast it is visible" therefore looks like overreach to me.
As for the Fens, I get the impression that "what we did to them" means converting them to agriculture. Whether this is a substantive point is open to question. In time the pressure on agricultural land will start to decline - particularly if idiot environmentalists and complicit governments choose to steer clear of biofuels - and we might see the Fens revert to nature.
Moreover, if Fenland soils really are going to be exhausted in 30 years' time, it would be showing up right now now in prices for farmland. The headline in this article therefore implies that Lord Deben is talking out of his hat.
No change there then.
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