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UK: New £1m partnership to address knowledge gaps in soil biology

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) have announced an ambitious new research partnership to develop practical soil biology management guidance.

The five-year partnership looks to improve on-farm understanding of soil health by benchmarking current academic and industry knowledge, developing and validating indicators of soil biology and soil health in research trials and integrating a far-reaching knowledge exchange programme throughout the five-year programme.

This forms an important part of AHDB’s strategic commitment to accelerating innovation and productivity growth through coordinated research and development and knowledge exchange.

The new £1 million project is part of the AHDB GREATsoils programme, complementing a £1.5 million initiative looking at soil structure, announced by AHDB last year.

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, partnership lead from NIAB, said: “We recognise that there are already a broad range of novel soil health management strategies being used in an array of production systems; we want to bring together the best research and the most effective practical approaches on-farm by establishing up to eight farmer research innovation groups across the UK so we can help farmers develop their own site-specific best practice.”

Farmers and growers are invited to take part in the project launch events which will:
  • Summarise the state-of-the-art research in soil biology and health and ask for input on the best ways to share this information with the grower on the ground
  • Present a proposed “soil health scorecard” and seek feedback ahead of piloting through the farmer-research innovation groups
  • Listen to the questions of farmers and growers; identify challenges and opportunities that the programme should tackle in soil biology and soil health on-farm
  • Explain how farmers and growers can get involved in the farmer-research innovation groups
  • Will commence with workshops intended to engage farmers and growers to develop a programme of activity that will meet the needs of the industry.
The Managing Soil Health Workshops will take place on:

Monday 13 November - 10:00am to 3:30pm
Cockle Park Farm, Newcastle University, Morpeth NE61 3EB
Wednesday 15 November - 10:00am - 3:30pm
Hallmark Hotel, Robinswood Hill, Gloucester GL4 6EA
Visit: to book your place.

Dr Amanda Bennett, AHDB resource management scientist, said: “Interest in soil health has mounted in recent years but soil biology is not particularly well understood, with research to date failing to generate practical materials to support on-farm decisions. Farmers and growers have themselves taken up the mantle and a great deal of work is being done out in the field experimenting with different approaches to optimising soil biology.

“This exciting new partnership will work closely with farmers, growers and advisers to draw together and build on all that knowledge and experience to create accessible guidance and tools to help farmers improve their soils’ health.”

Dr Simon Bowen, BBRO knowledge exchange & crop progression lead, said: “Soil health is both a longer-term and cross-rotational challenge and the collaborative approach across different crop sectors over the five year programme is a unique and vital research platform. Crops such as sugar beet create an opportunity as a spring-sown break crop for many growers in the East of England to deploy a range of tools and tactics. These include the application of organic amendments, the growing of over-winter cover crops and the use of different soil cultivation approaches. The challenge to measure the impacts of these different agronomic approaches in order to deliver in the most effective improvement in soil health has never been so important.”

Publication date: 9/26/2017



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