Industry representative: James Brown, Pollybell
AHDB Horticulture project cost: £268,100
Improving the health of soils is fundamental to the agronomic and financial sustainability of horticultural enterprises, as recognised by governments and policy makers. To improve soil health, fertility and function however, we need clear methods and criteria to allow simple, quick assessment and measurement. With this project we will review and compare current approaches and develop and field test a set of methods, approaches, and tools for soil assessment and management.
Most growers understand the importance of soil, but do not keep up to date with the research and latest best practice. With this project we will inspire and empower growers to improve their soil by translating these methods, approaches and tools, as well as the existing and developing soils research, into clear, practical information and training resources for growers which will complement the subject-specific HDC factsheet series.
The project partners combine a wealth of experience in soil based research, knowledge exchange and communication that will enable them to effectively deliver the aims of the project.
Aims and objectives:
The overall aim of this project is to inspire and support fruit and vegetable growers (primarily) to develop the ability and confidence to assess the health of their soils and take practical action to improve their soil management strategies.
Equipped with an improved understanding of soil health, they will be able to choose appropriate m ethods to enhance and maintain the health of their soils; which is key to good crop health, yield and quality.
The project will:
·evaluate soil assessment methods for growers
·improve growers’ confidence in ‘reading the signs’
·offer the opportunity to practise assessment methods with colleagues and advisors
·engage with, and disseminate the methods and approaches to a wide range of levy payers, growers, advisors and other stakeholders
·develop methods and approaches for practical soil analysis and evaluation to enable confident choice of management options.
1 Review. This work package will produce a comprehensive synopsis of existing soil health assessment methods and strategies, based on a recently completed literature review1 and other recent papers, reviews and techniques developed by research organisations or commercial companies.
(Year 1) Led by Organic Research Centre.
2 Develop an integrated approach to soil health assessment and improvement.
2.1 Grower consultations (held as workshops). Together with practitioners we will critically review and evaluate existing methods and approaches for assessing, benchmarking and improving soil health in a whole farm/system approach. We will do this in close collaboration with growers and advisors to determine the usefulness, efficiency and applicability of the methods and approaches during a series of four workshops across the UK.
2.2 Field testing of the approaches identified in 2.1. The soil assessment methods identified in 2.1 will be field tested during two growing seasons, 2016 and 2017. The field tests will be conducted on six farms across the UK, taking various soil types, growing regions and growing systems into account. This will identify usability, relevance and acceptance of the identified methods, but also serve as training and dissemination opportunities for field lab events.
2.3 Using all information gained from the grower workshops and field trials, we will develop and agree common methods and approaches for improved and comprehensive soil health measurement, as well as a range of strategies to maintain and enhance soil health in UK horticultural systems.
(Year 1) Led by Organic Research Centre
3 Development of KE strategy and materials.
The project team will develop an agreed KE strategy and materials to disseminate information on best practice in measuring and managing soil health in soil-grown horticulture following consultation with HDC and levy payers. We plan to use existing, proven KE tools and will consult widely with HDC, growers, agronomists and other KE professionals on this, alongside using novel approaches and methods. The exact approach will be developed following consultation, as the project progresses, but at present, we propose to:
3.1 develop outline plan for a UK-wide KE Programme, to include blend of KE methods (years 1 and 2)
3.2 produce six case studies on effective soil health measurement and strategies for improvement (years 1 and 2)
3.3 produce six guidance notes on costs and benefits of improving soil health at farm level (years 1 and 2)
3.4 develop online hub on soil health measurement and management for HDC levy payers. (Years 1 -3)
3.5 develop detailed plan for grower events (including workshops/farm walks/ field labs) (Year 1)
3.6 develop a detailed plan for representation and attendance at existing key events, thereby maximising resources (e.g. Crop Association conferences, National Soil Symposium, Tillage Live) (Year 1)
3.7 develop a media plan for targeted and timely press articles in a range of publications including The Grower, The Vegetable Farmer and Farmer’s Weekly (Year 1)
3.8 develop innovative KE routes harnessing use of Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blogging (Years 1 - 3) (Year 1 + 2) Led by Earthcare Technical.
4 UK wide KE programme
Deliver a UK wide KE programme. In year 1 this will use existing material and proven methods. In year 2 and 3 we will follow the strategy developed under objective 3, making use of new materials and toolkit. (Years 1 - 3) Led by Soil Association. Key elements of the proposed delivery programme are set out below:
4.1 Soils Roadshow – attendance at 18 events
4.2 Twenty four interactive one-day workshops
4.3 Three “Youtube” films
4.4 Four online presentations or webinars
4.5 Five Field labs (target 10 farmers over 4 dates)
4.6 Media campaign
4.7 Develop advisors to support growers post project
For information on Grower consultation events please click here.