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Research partnership set to unearth secrets of profitable soils throughout rotation

Agriculture in Scotland (c) James Hutton Institute
“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.

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).

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 research programme.

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 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
  • Applications of new technologies to enhance rotations
  • Enhancing rotational productivity and resilience
  • Linking soils, water and roots with crop productivity

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.”

Specialists from the James Hutton Group, comprising the James Hutton Institute and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), will be involved at different stages of the research programme.

Based at the James Hutton Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group in Aberdeen, Yakubu Abdul-Salam’s initial involvement will be to determine critical economic data to be collected from partner growers and long-term experimental farms. Later he will be involved in analysing data, yielding economic indicators of the profitability and sustainability of rotations.

Similarly, the expertise of Jean Robertson, Angela Main and Estefania Pérez-Fernandez in Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy will be used to study the quality of soil organic matter (SOM).  Variations in SOM quality through a rotation, the influence of amendments on SOM and links between SOM quality and soil physical properties will all be investigated using FTIR spectroscopy. Work will involve recording and interpreting FTIR spectra and development of calibrations using FTIR spectra to predict soil properties.

Dundee-based Tracy Valentine, from the Institute’s Ecological Sciences group, will investigate the soil physical properties using imaging, hyperspectral imaging and image analysis to quantify pores structure and soil physical measurements to assess soil strength. The effect of changes in the soil structure on root elongation and plant establishment will also be investigated.

As part of the grower platform, Katharine Preedy (BioSS) will be analysing historical crop rotation data to identify potential beneficial cultivation interventions and, in collaboration with scientists and growers, designing and analysing experiments to test the efficacy of the most promising candidates. In the final year of the project it will also be possible to include further data on rotations in the analysis.

Also based in Dundee, Blair McKenzie (Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group) will work with growers to characterise rotations that maintain soil quality and identify soil management interventions that can be deployed to improve soil quality and root proliferation.

Notes to editors:

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

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.

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Printed from /news/research-partnership-set-unearth-secrets-profitable-soils-throughout-rotation on 27/09/23 05:47:27 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.