Led by 14 organisations from across the agricultural and horticultural industries including NIAB CUF, Rothamsted Research, the James Hutton Institute and Lancaster University, the interrelated projects will form a five-year programme of research to help farmers and agronomists optimise soil and water management decisions and optimise rotations.
They will cover a diverse range of topics contributing to crop performance, including soil quality indicators, optimal rotations, precision technology and water availability, and will tap into an established network of farm-based initiatives as well as commercial sites to allow growers and agronomists access to trials and provide a forum for peer-to-peer learning.
AHDB head of resource management Dr Mike Storey 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."
Meanwhile a separate AHDB Horticulture-funded study is investigating how different methods of measuring soil health can help growers improve their business and the environment through better soil management.
The first GREATsoils project demonstration in a series of field trials run by the Organic Research Centre in partnership with the Soil Association and Earthcare Technical was held on 6 July, focusing on field vegetables and leafy salads at two sites in East Anglia - Jepco and Taylorgrown.
Both businesses are working to improve soil health through the application of green manures. As well as using standard lab tests, the study uses other indicators and methods including respiration rates, earthworm counts and visual soil-assessment tools to better understand the impact of specific interventions.
Jepco director Phillip Hubbert said: "Our goal is to learn how we can improve soil microbiology and what effect this has on crop quality, specifically shelf life." Taylorgrown general manager Joe Rolfe added: "I want to see if this trial can lead to a more sustainable growing system that will put something back into the soil while at the same time producing a good-quality product." Further trials will include sites in Scotland, the Midlands, and the south, covering field vegetables, salads and top fruit.
Meanwhile, the first of three GREATsoils "webinars" takes place on 27 July. Hosted by Dr Martin Wood of Earthcare Technical and primarily aimed at fruit and vegetable growers, "Soil Health & the Bottom Line" will take an holistic view of the chemistry, biology and physics of soil as well as the benefits of good soil health management. Register online at horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/great-soils.