Farmers should be paid to improve and maintain soil health as part of the new public goods model, a new government report has said.

Published on the Government website, the report by the Natural Capital Committee outlined a list of future recommendations for DEFRA to improve and maintain soil health.

One suggestion was to incorporate the protection and enhancement of soil quality into the post Brexit agricultural payments for public goods, which would work as an incentive for farmers to improve their environmentally beneficial practises. These practises include those that reduce climate change, increase biodiversity, increase water capacity and avoid soil erosion.

The report also said that despite current protections, such as soil organic matter being a key requirement in of the Basic Payment Scheme under the Common Agriculture Policy, and the Countryside Stewardship scheme, the importance of soils was “virtually ignored” in comparison to issues such as air and water quality.

“The government should give soils equivalent focus and attention to air and water and this should be reflected in the 25-Year Environment Plan (YEP) indicators being developed, such that soil health is one of the head indicators,” the report said.

It added that more than the £200,000 already specified in the 25-YEP should be spent on soil improvement measures, to reflect the cost of the ongoing degradation which is estimated at £3.21 billion just for the loss of soul carbon across the UK.

A national five-year periodic survey, which would start on arable and peat lands sites where soil is most degraded, was another suggestion put forward, as a way for the government to monitor the state of soils across the county.

Precision agriculture, such as micromanaging crops to maximize yield, would also prove beneficial for monitoring soil health the report said, and thanks to its “requirement for minimal processing” did not incur excessive cost.

With new applications available on smartphones for simple spectroscopy, the new technology could help to assist “individual farmers in their management decisions, by allowing more targeted inputs, with GPS tagging of such data supporting environmental stewardship payments,” the report said.

“Such a dynamic application will address soil heterogeneity experienced across individual farms.”