NEWS: NIAB’s new Head of Farming Systems to lead new £1m soil biology research partnership

29 Sep 2017

A new industry-wide soil biology research programme, that aims to improve on-farm understanding of soil health and management, is to be led by Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, recently appointed Head of Farming Systems at UK crop research organisation NIAB.

The five-year, £1 million, Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership, funded by Elizabeth Stockdale, NIABThe Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), will bring together the best available research and practical approaches to tackle soil biology and soil health on-farm.

Dr Stockdale manages NIAB’s Farming Systems team, which delivers research, evaluation, demonstration and knowledge exchange activities on combinable crops and forage, with a particular focus on soils, cultivations and rotations.

Speaking about her appointment and the new research project Dr Stockdale says: “I’m delighted to be joining one of the UK’s leading independent science-based research organisations, and taking responsibility for such pioneering soils-based initiatives and projects as STAR and New Farming Systems.

“I’m particularly looking forward to getting my hands dirty with the new AHDB and BBRO-funded Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership as the programme will be a great step forward in improving our understanding of soil health. The project includes benchmarking current academic and industry knowledge, developing and validating indicators of soil biology and health in research trials and on-farm and finally integrating a far-reaching knowledge exchange programme for all UK growers.”

NIAB Deputy Director Stuart Knight says: “Attracting someone of Elizabeth’s calibre to NIAB is a great endorsement of our strategy and ambition for the organisation. Her experience of leading research for a range of funders, developing and managing projects, and delivering technical information to a variety of audiences is core to the role of Head of Farming Systems. Our farmer members, customers and the wider industry will benefit enormously from her experience, skills and knowledge.”

Dr Stockdale joins NIAB from Newcastle University, where she was Senior Lecturer in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, focused on teaching, research and knowledge exchange activities on soil management in UK farming systems.

Dr Stockdale’s research interests began with the study of soil processes – especially mineralisation-immobilisation turnover and the nitrogen cycle at scales from nano-metres to farms, with previous roles at the Scottish Agricultural College (now SRUC) and Rothamsted Research. She developed nutrient budgeting as a tool for farmers and has worked on approaches to developing fertiliser decision-support systems. Most recently Dr Stockdale has been working in collaboration with farmers to investigate soil health and develop tools to help measure soil health and to support improved soil management.