NEWS: Soil management project to support sustainability

5 Jul 2012

soilIncreased cereal yields for UK farmers and lower greenhouse gas emissions are the key objectives of a ground breaking new £644,000 research project commissioned by the HGCA and carried out by the James Hutton Institute and NIAB TAG.

The nub of the four-year project is to establish best practice for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production. Crucially it means UK farmers, agronomists and policy makers will have access to data from science carried out in Britain that addresses the agronomic, environmental and economic impacts of soil management practices.

The new research will provide data on carbon storage under different tillage practices for UK conditions and the impacts of soil management on environmental indicators linked to concerns raised in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC). It will also help growers increase yields as it will identify new varieties of barley, wheat and oilseed rape that respond better to soil conditions and changes in soil cultivation, such as the shift towards minimum tillage by many UK farmers.

The work will build on nine years of tillage and crop experiments conducted by the James Hutton Institute at Balruddery and Mylnefield farms near Dundee. This work has evaluated how a range of barley varieties interact with soils cultivated by normal ploughing, deep ploughing, minimum tillage or zero tillage. NIAB TAG will also incorporate its established soil-management field experiments - New Farming Systems (NFS) and Sustainability Trial in Arable Rotations (STAR) - into the work.

Project leader, Dr Paul Hallett, head of Sustainable Production Systems at the James Hutton Institute, is confident that the new project will produce significant benefits to UK cereal growers.

He said: “With our partners at NIAB TAG we are able to combine cutting edge science at the crop-soil interface with direct delivery of practical solutions to farmers. Many of the changes in soil management practices farmers employ take years to establish. The soil management experimental platforms at the James Hutton Institute and NIAB TAG provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate what is best for UK conditions.”