With the launch of the Big Soil Community, Fera is taking a novel approach to the way one of the big challenges to sustainable agriculture is overcome
By coordinating a community effort to sample and analyse the biodiversity of our soil microbial communities at scale, in a cost-effective and timely manner. Unpicking the complexity of soil biology will provide insight into the contribution and promise that these communities offer soil health and sustainable agriculture.
The initiative will catalogue the results and provide farmers with reports of the findings – examining a) the biodiversity of the sampled microbial community and b) an anonymised benchmark of all Big Soil Community samples on a system by system basis.
A recent report for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), by Fera scientist, John Elphinstone, on methods of assessing soil microbial communities has enabled a suitable approach to biological soil sampling and has helped to form a scientific foundation for the project.
Launched at Cereals 2018. Over the next three months, farmers will be invited to sign up to the initiative so that by September sampling can begin. Individual and summary reports are being supplied in December and a full publication of results in January
Farmers taking part will receive:
A report providing a rich picture of the biodiversity of their microbial communities, specifically populations of bacteria and funghi.
The tools to benchmark their results against the wider Big Soil Community; providing insight into the impact of soil management, crop rotations and farm system.
The data will give farmers a chance to re-examine their farming practices and potentially implement measures that will help them to improve the health of their soil.
The larger the testing community, the lower the cost to the farmer. The pricing model allows this due to cost efficiencies when more samples are tested. Currently, the cost to have a sample analysed is expected to be £250 but this will decrease as more farms join the study.
Fera is also engaging with supply chain organisations, retailers and farming groups on the initiative – retailers, for instance, will be able to gain an understanding of the soil health of their growers against the wider benchmark.
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