When pressed to produce more with less, the trick is to make the most of what you’ve got. A basic but increasingly vital asset for farmers is soil; as world demand for food rises, so does the importance of managing soil quality.
That’s why the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has teamed up with Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) to support the expertise and hard efforts of UK farming businesses with the latest research and best-practice soil information most relevant to their location.
The two-year Soils Partnership, which will feature around 70 events across the country, is getting the very best in soil and nutrient knowledge to cereal and potato growers, beef and sheep farmers and agronomists from Kent to Cumbria, Devon to East Lothian. More than 70% of these soil specific events have a cross-sector agricultural focus.
The programme of workshops, focus groups and conferences is backed by a series of management guides and information sheets, plus a dedicated soils management web portal on the AHDB website.
“Despite the internationally acknowledged best practice and dedication of UK farmers and growers, there’s evidence our soils are becoming increasingly depleted of organic matter, with adverse effects on their texture and workability impacting on fertility and productivity,” said James Holmes, AHDB/HGCA Research and Knowledge Transfer Manager.
“The Soils Partnership programme is getting the latest knowledge to farmers and their advisers on soil and nutrient management, helping them maintain and improve the quality of their soil.
“Land is a valuable, finite resource so it’s essential farmers and growers are supported in their hard efforts to take the best possible care to ensure high soil quality,” he added.
AHDB Chief Scientist Ian Crute also sees a special place for improving soil quality in all areas of agriculture and horticulture, saying: “The health and fertility of soils has always been a priority for crop and pasture-based agriculture but even greater attention now needs to be paid to good soil management because of the interrelationship between productivity and environmental impact.
“Initiatives such as the Soils Partnership will help ensure we make the most of a vital asset for increasing yields, as well as tackle issues of nutrient losses to water and emissions of nitrous oxide. In this context, attention to such things as drainage and cultivation practices can contribute significantly to reducing farming’s environmental impact,” he added.
Philippa Mansfield, Senior Adviser for CSF Partnerships, explained: “By improving soil management and structure farmers can improve crop growth as well as reduce soil and nutrient loss to water courses, which impacts on water quality and ecology.
“These events and the web portal will help farmers access more information on farm practices to improve soil and nutrient management.”
Soils Partnership events scheduled for the summer and early autumn, for example, include a national series of technical workshops for potato growers; advice sessions on soil and grass management at NSA Sheep 2012; workshops in nutrient and soil management for beef and sheep farmers; some sessions on soil and forage management for dairy farmers; a sediment workshop aimed at the arable sector; while HGCA and Potato Council will present a shared focus on soil management at Tillage 2012.