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Greens trashing the environment part 625

According to the Committee on Climate Change's recent report, soils in the south-west of England are facing a problem:


Changes in crop type are reducing the risks of soil erosion in some areas. The area under high erosion risk crops such as potato and sugar beet has fallen while there has been an increase in the area under low erosion risk crops such as oil seed rape. However, this has been partly offset by the five-fold increase in the area of land under maize between 1988 and 2010, which is potentially increasing soil erosion risk in some parts of the country, particularly the south west of England.

And why has there been a five-fold increase in maize?


The area has since increased even more rapidly, to 196,000 hectares in 2014. Of this, the majority (93%) was grown in England. The main use of maize is as a forage crop to feed livestock. However, nearly 15% of maize production (29,000 hectares in 2014) is being grown to provide feedstock to anaerobic digestion plants for bio-energy.[34]

So a significant factor in the growth of the erosion problem is the increasing production of biofuels. And although the area concerned is only 29000 hectares at present, that number seems to be rising quickly: this document suggests that just a year earlier the area was only 15500 hectares, so it has doubled in the course of a year.

It is a pity then that the Committee on Climate Change has been actively encouraging the deployment of anaerobic digestion plants.


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Reader Comments (26)

As we say in Ireland the main cause of problems is solutions.

Jul 17, 2015 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpectator


Jul 17, 2015 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701 E

It does seem that the alarmists are switching to "soil depletion" as the go-to scary thing.
It was even on Green Peter (Countryfile) at the weekend.

I read a lot about it in the 80s when it first came up, but then it was eclipsed by global warming
it fell out of the news.

Seems it's back. I mean it's worrying, especially in parts of the world without the capability
of dredging it back out of the river estuaries and dumping it back on the land again, but it
has all the hallmarks of a pointless scare:

1. The soil might be getting depleted, but it doesn't vanish - it goes somewhere - rivers, where
it can be recovered. You need dredgers, diggers and trucks, but it's not rocket science.

2. A regime of fallow season zero-value crops planting can held the topsoil in place. This
just requires a small change to farming technique.

Nothing to see here.

Jul 17, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

The popularity of maize in the south west UK grew for several reasons. It tolerates a lot of slurry and became a convenient place for farmers to dump it, regardless of crop requirement. It only needs harvesting once, unlike grass for silage, and the digestibility of its dry matter declines only slowly in the field, unlike grass.
Farmers who installed AD plants, initially to generate methane to burn for heating water in their dairies and houses, found that gas output was much better if they put the maize silage straight into the digester, and cut the cows out of the equation. Installation of i/c generators feeding the grid and selling the cows and focus on taking in poultry manure and waste oil from restaurants as fuel stock was the next phase.
It all makes perfect business sense - until you take out FITs and ROCs and the cost of exporting the surplus N,P and K to other farms by road, once the farm soils become too enriched to take any more. There is also the compaction from heavy harvesting machinery and the resulting soil erosion into roads and rivers to consider. All in all it would be better if there were no maize grown north of Cherbourg.

Jul 17, 2015 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterVictoria Sponge

Soil depletion seems like an unlikely problem in the UK.
We have more trees than ever (well for half a millennium).
All those leaves taking CO2 out of the air, metabolising and then falling to the ground.

We ought to have better soil now than in the twentieth century.

Jul 17, 2015 at 9:40 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney


Add to that the complexities of social engineering and "solutions" become incomprehensible monstrosities. The arrogance of these people...

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

I'm about to start my 25th year of intensive farming, and the whole farm is still where it's supposed to be.

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Perhaps Selwyn Gummer should be consulted for advice on solving the conflict?

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Probably more of a problem on farms where the fields are steep, leading to more run-off. Most farmers are brighter than they're made out to be, so I'm sure there are plenty of solutions available. That being said, it joins the very long list of unseen consequences that result from legislation brought in by DECC to save the planet.

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Do Members of the Committee on Climate Change have portable anaerobic digesters for the disposal of their own organic waste? They should be seen to lead by example, but not heard, or smelled.

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Round these parts, apart from a number of windmill plantations agriculture is moving away from sheep with more fields being turned over to maize and a lesser extent sunflowers. The Limousin cattle are still in evidence, but who knows for how long..

Jul 17, 2015 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

SandyS, music festivals and camp sites used to be popular crop rotations, but without generous funding, they can't compete with wind turbines and solar farms.

Wind turbines and solar farms also have the added bonus of causing more annoyance and environmental destruction over 365 days a year, whatever the weather, and still rake in vast profits. Owners make unemployed dole scroungers seem like novices at getting paid for doing nothing useful.

If Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath were covered in wind turbines, it would really give townies a chance to share the joys of modern country life, 24/7, and with all the modern tarmac paths, there would be no risk of their shoes getting dirty.

Jul 17, 2015 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Maize cropping increases soil erosion due to the large gaps in the rows, 2-3ft, compared to that of other corn crops, 6ins. This increases soil area exposed to rain so more run-off taking the soil with it. Grown as a food crop only the cobs are needed, as a forrage crop most of the plant can and is used for cattle. Biofuel cropping is a deplorable waste of good land.

Bio digesters are a good thing in some circumstances. Hydroponically grown tomatoes are a case in point. the crop is the fruit the plant, an annual, dies if left, but gathered as a catch crop this clean soilless material can be used to produce methane to be used in generators on farm to produce electricity and heat, which is used in the greenhouse, and exhaust by-products, CO2& H2O pumped back to the greenhouse to enrich the atmosphere so increasing crop yield.

A productive and profitable cycle subsidised by the government.

Jul 17, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Charlie Flindt:
Explain to us how nitrogen fertiliser works...
I've been on the same patch over 40 years. and here's some actual visible things I see around me.
Now, here's a puzzle no-one else can answer.
My cottage was built, over the course of 6 weekends in 1962, in what was and still is a cow-pasture for dairy cows. Sheep and beef cattle graze in that field now.
Obviously a fence/hedge was planted around the surrounding small garden and its never been extended modified since.
Question is, why is that hedge 6 feet tall when you stand beside it in the garden but 8 feet tall when you stand beside it in the field? Obviously cows and sheep have not grazed the garden nor has it ever received any fertiliser.

Another puzzle for you..
About 120 years ago, my land was 'drained' A system of clay tiles were buried about 30" below the surface of the land.
I now maintain that system. My query is, why does it now seem that all those tiles were buried under pure red clay. The stuff is quite impervious to water so why did those Irish navvies, all that time ago, go to so much hard work installing a system that could never actually function? What happened there - is it possible that 120 years ago, what is now red clay was actually black friable topsoil/loam and those recent years of farming have sucked all the goodness/life/organic fraction out of it?

Also, we seem here to be unclear of what soil erosion actually is.
Certainly what I believed until a few years ago is what most folks here think, namely that soil erosion is where the stuff liquefies under heavy rain and pours off the fields.
Certainly yes.
But soil erosion is also the removal (erosion) of the organic fraction of the soil and is what happens first. The organic part binds the mineral parts together. By the time the the fields turn to brown/red slurry and sweep through your town centre, the real damage has already been done. Organic rich soil does not do that and, contrary to popular opinion, flood water should not even be brown. This really does take some getting your head round.

If you want 'visible', just check out the Yellow River. It used to be the Great River, until farming arrived on the slopes and hillsides of its catchment.
When Deben talks about 'visible' you do not get much more visible than that.

Jul 17, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeta in Cumbria

We have a new A/D plant nearby (allowed by planning where a world-class motocross track* was turned down - go figure) that seems to require a continuous stream of tractor/trailers to feed it with vegetation, currently silage grass. The amount of diesel used to do this (some of it comes from miles away) must almost equate the energy of the gas ultimately produced, and even the operators admit that it wouldn't be viable without the subsidy.

It's an eyesore, it holds up the traffic, it smells and I'm paying for it!

*It ran for two years before the planners refused retrospective permission, but not before a round of the World Championship was held on it before 20,000 spectators.

Jul 17, 2015 at 5:34 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

West country soil is generally acidic, in Devon and Cornwall. To grow maize here you would need to add lime to neutralize the soil. Lime production produces co2 so hopefully it's Dorset with a chalky alkaline soil that is growing the maize.

Jul 17, 2015 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterCliff G

There are several AD plants in planning or in operation in Devon and Cornwall. They have all caused huge problems and disruption to the local communities, whether it is from the smell, the noise or the huge amount of heavy traffic. They all rely on a vast acreage of maize as part of the feedstock. The subsidies are so huge that the income from growing maize for the AD plants is at least three times that to use the land to grow animal fodder crops. Each AD plant requires hundreds of acres of land to grow the feedstock and hence the disruption to the normal farm trade is enormous. Even the Government is getting worried that AD plants increase CO2 emissions because of the huge amount of diesel involved in growing, harvesting and transporting the feedstocks and in the disposal of the digestate. There is no doubt that AD plants are the worst of all renewable energy systems as the energy density of the feedstock crops is incredibly low - much lower than for solar panels on farmland. It takes about 1 square mile of land to produce the crops to feed an AD plant of about 1MW.

Jul 17, 2015 at 8:48 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Can somebody please give me a succinct meaning for "potentially increasing soil erosion risk" ?

Something along the lines of, what is the current risk, and what could it potentially increase to, and what are the chances of that risk being realized?

Jul 18, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreg Cavanagh

A friend of mine, a scientist working at high level in horticultureand with a very broad grasp of agricultural research, tells me that soil erosion is cause for great concern.

She described to me just one aspect: farmers are being encouraged to plough parallel to watercourses: perpendicular carries away a vast volume of soil when it rains.

We sceptics, as a general principle, must beware dismissing every scare story as hype: sometimes, the cry of "wolf" is due to the presence of a befanged slavering beast!

Jul 18, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

She also explained that modern tractors can now safely plough on steeper gradients, and therefore land is being cultivated which previously couldn't be; obviously this steeper land is more subject to rains carrying off the precious brown stuff.

From a bridge, she pointed out how brown the river underneath was. This, she says, is real.

Jul 18, 2015 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

Brent Hargreaves,
Interesting stuff from your scientist friend. It's true that we ploughmen are being encouraged to plough with the contours, but it's not quite as simple as that. A plough mouldboard takes a slither of soil 14" wide and about 8" deep (in the case of my Kverneland 5 furrow reversible fitted with No 28 bodies) and turns it over, moving it about 18" to the left or the right. So it effectively moves the whole topsoil, like a duvet on a bed. This means that ploughing with the contours and pushing the soil uphill is one of the most efficient tools against soil erosion available. Pushing the soil downhill is one of the worst. However, moving the soil uphill is harder to do, using more diesel and not burying the weeds so well, and ploughmen have in the past tended to push downhill year after year.
The curious thing is that ploughing has been out of fashion for the best part of a decade, as we all switched to what's called minimum tillage. No ploughing, and often the bare minimum of ground work before the seed drill goes into the field. But ploughing was (and still is) one of the best forms of weed control, and min till has gone out of fashion as the chemical weed killers we were using became ineffective (nature strikes back!) or banned by the EU. With rampant blackgrass and brome in our fields, we're all buying ploughs again. The odd thing is that all this plough-based erosion is being flagged up melodramatically after a decade of the plough not actually being used.
I'm also baffled by her claim that we are ploughing ground that never used to be cultivated. There are very strict rules in place from the EU about ploughing up land that hasn't been arable previously, so I'm not sure about that at all.

I'm hoping to reply to Peta in Cumbria once I've worked out what the questions are...

Jul 18, 2015 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

A maize seed rape?

Jul 19, 2015 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDEEBEE

I believe Brent's friend. But I'm not worried. Why?

BECAUSE IT'S A REAL PROBLEM! That means that it has real solutions. It is being dealt with by real people who really do know what they are doing. Either they will fix it or they will fuck it up, in which case we will have to buy our groceries from other countries that haven't been so bloody stupid. The consequences are not open ended; certain things will result; certain others will not.

So different from all that Gorbal Warbling business...

Jul 19, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Gus

Bishop Hill (and others)

There is absolutely NO (warming) sensitivity to carbon dioxide or water vapor. There’s enough water vapor for us to see by measurement that more moist regions have lower mean daily maximums and minimums, as my study with data from 15 inland tropical regions on three continents showed to be the case.

All planets and moons have inner regions (lower troposphere, mantle, core etc) which are maintained at higher temperatures than the effective radiating temperature. This requires an input of thermal energy to those lower regions, but that energy does not mostly come from direct solar radiation, let alone back radiation. It comes from the non-radiative mechanism about which you can read here and that is confirmed by a correct application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is all about entropy maximization and nothing else.

You cannot prove me wrong on this. Your discussion of so-called “radiative forcing” is about a totally imaginary process which simply does not happen because all that back radiation can do is slow the rate of radiative cooling, not the rate of non-radiative cooling. But the Sun’s direct radiation cannot explain the existing surface temperatures on Earth or Venus, just for starters. So the rate of cooling is irrelevant. You think in the wrong paradigm altogether because you have been gullible enough to believe James Hansen and his cronies who simply do not understand entropy and the related thermodynamics.

Jul 20, 2015 at 12:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterD o u g

Well Monbiot agrees with you. Apparently it's just the unintended consequences of incentives to convert sewage and food waste into fuel...

Nice that everyone is on the same page for once. Now if only these wise-after the-fact, sanctimonious 'planet-savers' would take this on board and consider getting wise beforehand with all the other global warming 'solutions' that are doing far more harm than good.

Jul 20, 2015 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


"You cannot prove me wrong on this"

You must not say things like that if you wish to be taken seriously. For one thing, it makes you sound like an alarmist!

Jul 20, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

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