The Potential Co-benefits and Trade-offs Between Improved Soil Management, Climate Change Mitigation and Agri-food Productivity

Ryan McGuire* (Corresponding Author), Paul N. Williams, Pete Smith, Steve P. McGrath, Donald Curry, Iain S. Donnison, Bridget Emmet, Nigel D. Scollan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Maximising resource-use efficiency, productivity and environmental sustainability are all fundamental requirements to raise global food production by ~70 per cent in order to feed a world population of ~9.7 billion people by 2050. Perhaps the most vital resource within our capacity to achieve this goal is our soil. Broadly, the fundamental question concerns whether or not satisfying
this production demand will accelerate soil degradation, climate change and the loss of soil carbon stocks. This paper builds upon the outputs of the UK Charity ‘Food & Farming Futures’ (chaired by Lord Curry of Kirkharle) virtual workshop held on March 23rd 2021, entitled: Capturing the Potential of Soil. The event focused on the link between soil health, primarily soil organic carbon (SOC), and
agricultural productivity. Supported with commentaries by Professor Pete Smith (University of Aberdeen and Science Director of the Scottish Climate Change Centre of Expertise) and Professor Steve McGrath (Head of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences at Rothamsted Research), specific focus will be given to the research challenges within the UK’s ability to improve soil health and functionality, the implementation priorities that must be held in order to improve soil management by 2050, and what the potential co-benefits could be. These co-benefits were scattered across environmental, economic, social and political issues, yet they may be summarised into six primary co-benefits: developing natural capital, climate change mitigation, carbon trading, improvements in crop yield, animal performance and human health (nutrition). Additionally, the main barriers to improved soil management practices are centred on knowledge-exchange regarding agrienvironmental techniques – whilst the most impactful solutions rely on soil monitoring, reporting and verification.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere352
Number of pages10
JournalFood and Energy Security
Issue number2
Early online date8 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

RMG is supported through the UK Research & Innovation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. RMG is the UK lead representative of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE JPI) on the Modelling European Agriculture with Climate Change for Food Security: Science-Policy Knowledge Forum (MACSUR SciPol).


  • agriculture
  • climate change
  • environment
  • food security
  • soil management
  • sustainability


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