Cross-sector programme will investigate field rotations' impact on soil and water

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).

Image: David Wright (CC BY 2.0)
Image: David Wright (CC BY 2.0)

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 crop 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.

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.

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."

The four projects are:

  • AHDB Grower Platform to support resilient rotations (AHDB investment: £329,000).
    Underpinning the programme as a whole, this 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.
  • Applications of new technologies to enhance rotations (£354,000).
    This 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, in order to develop a tool for growers to assess the risk to soil structure of sequential cultivations.
  • Enhancing rotational productivity and resilience (£325,000)
    This 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 such damage. 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 (£195,155)
    This will seek 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.

Storey added: "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."

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