Soil health initiative to address knowledge gaps

Practical soil biology management will be the focus an ambitious five-year industry partnership aiming to establish farmer research innovation groups for regional best practice.

A host of industry bodies headed up by Niab will unite as part of the AHDB GREATsoils programme and will have £1m to coordinate the scheme.

The aim is to create eight farmer groups around the UK to help farmers develop best practice for their own regions. 

Experts say that interest in soil health is mounting “but [is] not particularly well understood” and latest research is not being backed up by practical materials to aid farm decisions.

See also: How a focus on soil biology can improve livestock health

AHDB resource management scientist Dr Amanda Bennett said: “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.”

Project launch events for farmers and growers will:

  • Summarise the latest research in soil biology and health and ask for input on the best ways to share this information with producers
  • 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
  • Engage farmers and growers to develop a programme of activity that will meet industry needs

The initiative seeks to:

  • Benchmark current academic and industry knowledge
  • Develop and validate indicators of soil biology and health in research trials
  • Develop a knowledge exchange programme throughout the five-year project

This is hoped to compliment a £1.5m initiative looking at soil structure announced by AHDB last year.

Different modules on soil science are being led by Scotland’s Rural College, Niab and ADAS respectively.