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Checking out on-farm soil health in retailer sourcing

News | Published  10 July 2023

Our report ‘Sourcing Better Checked Out’ found a lack of effective sourcing policies to support local soil health on farms. We found no publicly available reporting on specific soil health indicators, or policies to limit insecticidal veterinary medication use that is harmful to soil health.

Food Retail

The ‘best’ sourcing means that retailers set requirements to support soil health, including keeping stocking densities that meet organic certification thresholds, and restricting use of insecticidal veterinary medications that remain present in manure fertilisers and the soil. 

“Healthy soils are the foundation of a healthy food system. We know that decades of agricultural intensification fuelled by agrochemical use have harmed our soils, eroding their biological complexity and resilience. Retailers have an important role to play in reversing this trend, both by incentivising comprehensive monitoring and reporting on soil health and by investing in production systems that are good for the land. This means investing in regenerative and organic production, with organic certification providing a robust and established guarantor of soil-friendly farming.” - Rob Percival, Head of Policy, Soil Association

What we found:

We found a lack of policies or targets to protect and enhance on-farm soil health. Some retailers mention soil health and quality in topline statements but provide no evidence of strategies to achieve this. 

Some retailers report on their pesticide and fertiliser use and have reduced the volume of synthetic fertilisers used in their supply chain. While this is beneficial, it is indirect action by retailers, not as part of an overarching strategy to support soil health. 

Leading retailers have only set out commitments to protect soil health and promote better management practices. They have not published any targets to achieve this or reported on soil health indicators. One retailer identifies suppliers with ‘robust on-farm soil health improvement plans’ but does not publicly report figures or provide evidence of what they consider ‘robust’. 

“Optimum soil health,  biodiversity, quality and functionality is achieved through management strategies that preserve and enhance the biological, chemical and physical characteristics of soils. Integrated Farm Management advocates a range of soil, plant, and nutrient management practices that enhance soil health and functionality.” - Elle Vercoe-Gibson, Certification Manager, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming)

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