John Cherry bends down and takes a handful of soil in his hands, brings it up to his face and breathes deeply. “You can smell when it is good,” he says, poking it with a finger. “This smells of roots … there is a rich, organic quality to it. It is a good smell.” Cherry is one of a growing army of UK farmers who are turning their back on the plough – and centuries of farming tradition – in an effort to tackle a little-noticed but potentially devastating environmental crisis: the degradation of the Earth’s soil. The UN has warned that soils around the world are heading for exhaustion and depletion, with an estimated 60 harvests left before they are too barren to feed the planet. That message was backed up in the UK by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who warned that the country is 30 to 40 years away from “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”. He added: “Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.” The apocalyptic nature of the threat was underlined last month by a report that […]

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