PLASTIC fragments in soil could be affecting agricultural productivity – prompting a new EU-funded investigation into the problem.

The impacts of plastic debris on soil health are largely unknown despite equal, or possibly greater, amounts of plastics entering soils than our rivers, seas, and oceans.

Starting this week, the MINAGRIS project will explore how this plastic debris is affecting soil biodiversity, soil functions, related ecosystem services, and agricultural productivity.

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Experiments will be conducted in 11 case studies across Europe, including one in the UK. The Countryside and Community Research Institute within the University of Gloucestershire will lead the dissemination of the research findings, investigate the advice available to farmers surrounding plastic use in agriculture, and work with UK horticultural growers and stakeholders.

The CCRI's Professor Julie Ingram, who will be leading this work in the UK, said: “This is a very exciting project as whilst there has been extensive research into the impacts of plastics on aquatic environments, little attention has been paid to soils, despite the importance of soil biodiversity.

“We look forward to supporting a team of highly experienced scientists across Europe to fully assess the environmental impacts of plastics on soil health, before exploring ways of reducing farmer reliance on products containing plastics.”

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There are many routes for plastic to find its way into agricultural land. Mulches used for weed control often contain plastic, as do tractor tyres and some historically applied agrichemicals. But the impacts of the resulting plastic debris left in the soil are little known, particularly when combined with other contaminants such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Once the impacts of plastics on soil health are established, the MINAGRIS project will provide farmers and other stakeholders with tools and guidance on how to assess their exposure and help them to transition away from using plastic-based products.