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AHDB-funded research partnership set to unearth the secrets of profitable soils throughout the rotation

31 May 2016

Four new projects addressing challenges in soil and water management across whole rotations have been awarded £1.2m in funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

Combining investment from AHDB’s Potatoes, Cereals & Oilseeds and Horticulture sectors, the interrelated projects will form a five-year programme of research to help farmers and agronomists optimise soil and water management decisions and plan environmentally and economically beneficial rotations.

A partnership led by NIAB CUF, with Rothamsted Research, the James Hutton Institute and Lancaster University – among 14 other organisations from across the agricultural and horticultural industries – has successfully bid to deliver the programme, following an AHDB call in September 2015.

Covering a diverse range of topics contributing to crop performance – including soil quality indicators, optimal rotations, precision technology and water availability – the programme aims to improve  understanding of soil structure and equip growers with the knowledge to build resilient, sustainable and profitable rotations.

It will tap into an established network of farm-based initiatives, including the AHDB SPot and Monitor Farms, and also commercial sites to enable growers and agronomists access to trials and provide a forum for peer-to-peer learning.

Dr Mike Storey, AHDB Head of Resource Management, said: “There has been a lot of work on the impact of soil conditions, cultivations and management on individual crop performance but we believe this new programme is unique in its scale and ambition.

“This research will generate new data and knowledge to answer challenges across whole rotations and provide information and tools to allow farm businesses to make rewarding and sustainable rotational decisions.”

The four projects are:

AHDB Grower Platform to support resilient rotations (110002101)

AHDB investment: £329,000

Underpinning the programme as a whole, this project will draw on historic data and current rotations to quantify links between rotational management and soil physical conditions with gross output, yield stability and economic margins. It will bring together an alliance of researchers, growers, grower groups and supply chain partners through cloud-based information sharing and existing research and farmer knowledge exchange initiatives.

Applications of new technologies to enhance rotations (110002102)

AHDB investment: £354,000

This project will critically assess existing precision farming technologies – including EMI soil scanning, GPS-enabled yield monitoring and infra-red spectroscopy – and investigate the practical benefits of managing fields in zones. The research, which is mainly field based, will collect data on machinery use and compaction in order to develop a tool for growers to assess the risk to soil structure of sequential cultivations.

Enhancing rotational productivity and resilience (110002103)

AHDB investment: £325,000

This project will address concerns around the detrimental effect on subsequent crops of incorporating root crops into rotations, quantifying the physical and economic cost of soil damage and developing strategies to minimise the risk of damage occurring. Alongside the other projects within the programme, data will be used to develop a ranking system for soils to highlight areas with a need for remedial intervention. Based on field trials with potatoes in the rotation, the project will also develop a model for optimising organic amendments on soils.

Linking soils, water and roots with crop productivity (110002104)

AHDB investment: £195,155

This final project seeks to gain a better understanding of how changes in soil conditions affect root growth, water uptake, canopy growth and yield potential in potatoes and other crops. It will develop a cost-effective method for quantifying root length in field-grown potato, carrot and parsnip crops to improve irrigation scheduling, with a view to achieving better yields and more efficient water use.

Dr Storey added: “The research partnership has put together a strong set of proposals with tangible benefits for farmers and agronomists over the programme’s lifespan and beyond. The researchers involved bring a wealth of experience and expertise, access to world class facilities, existing networks of research collaborators and a huge data resource to help leverage levy investment to the maximum.

“Central to this programme is a strong focus on knowledge exchange, giving farmers and their advisors access to trials, tools and data, as well as encouraging a two-way flow of information to help bridge the gap between robust science and practical on-farm solutions.”

AHDB is currently assessing proposals for a second partnership to implement a complementary £1m programme of research on soil health and biology, supported by five AHDB crop and livestock sectors and BBRO.

- Ends -

Notes to editors

The programme was commissioned under ‘AHDB soil and water call: management of rotation, soil structure and water’ and includes £1.2 million funding from AHDB Potatoes, AHDB Horticulture and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.

Research partnership summary:

Core researchers: NIAB CUF; Rothamsted Research; James Hutton Institute; Lancaster University.

Partner researchers: Aarhus University; BIOSS; Vegetable Consultancy Services.

Contributing in-kind: Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association; Frontier Agriculture; Grimme (UK) Ltd; Kettle Produce Ltd; Spearhead Marketing Ltd; B&C Farming Ltd; Greenvale AP; Farm Care Ltd; J & AE Montgomery; WB Daw & Son; Frederick Hiam Ltd.

AHDB is a UK-wide Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by Defra and primarily funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain through statutory levies. Established in 2008, it supports the following industries: meat and livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) in England; horticulture, milk and potatoes in Great Britain; and cereals and oilseeds in the UK. The AHDB’s remit covers 75 per cent of total UK agricultural output. Further information on AHDB can be found at www.ahdb.org.uk

Contact

For further information contact Jo Crowley, AHDB Senior Media & PR Manager on 024 7647 8720 or jo.crowley@ahdb.org.uk

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