AHDB GREATsoils stakeholder engagement

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The Microbiology Society is undertaking a project entitled A Sustainable Future as part of our 75th Anniversary, which aims to highlight the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to our members and empower them to use their research to evidence and impact the goals. Earlier this year, we put a call out to our members to submit case studies in the following three areas: antimicrobial resistance, soil health and the circular economy.

This case study is written by Dr Amanda Bennett, who is a Resource Management Scientist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), UK. It focuses on Soil Health; maintaining the health of our soils has gained increasing prominence in recent years. Soils are essential for the global food system and regulate water, carbon and nitrogen cycles but are put under pressure from population growth and climate change.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is a statutory levy board funded by farmers, growers, and others in the supply chain. We work closely with stakeholders to understand the needs of the agricultural and horticultural industries, to drive productivity and innovation, and support farm businesses to succeed. 

The Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership is a five-year programme of work funded by AHDB and BBRO (British Beet Research Organisation), and is a collaboration between 14 organisations, including academic institutes, commercial companies and charities. Key aims are to deliver information on soil health and soil biology in easily accessible formats, and to develop a soil health scorecard approach to measure and monitor soil health on-farm, in a range of production systems. 

The scorecard approach is bringing together a suite of physical, chemical and biological indicators of soil health, and is being developed and validated at a series of long-term experimental sites where drivers of soil biology – such as organic amendments, rotation, pH or tillage – are being investigated.  At these sites, research includes analyses of mesofauna, nematodes and microbial communities to improve understanding of the complexities of biological soil health.    

A simpler suite of measurements is also being trialled in a programme of on-farm monitoring for soil health by eight farmer groups across the UK. The farmers involved in this work were recruited after a series of workshops and an online survey at the start of the programme. Farmer and grower participation is important to ensure that we get feedback on the current understanding of soil health, the development of the scorecard approach (E.g. how easy it is to do assessments and interpret results using a ‘traffic light system’), and also what questions are being asked in a practical setting to ensure these are taken into account in the research programme.

The soil health scorecard approach has also been used for knowledge exchange within the AHDB Farm Excellence platform.  This platform comprises our on-farm activities and has several elements, each delivering in a different way:  Strategic Farms or Centres, focusing on technical performance; Monitor Farms, focusing on business performance; smaller discussion groups; and technical events, ranging from local meetings to national roadshows or larger conferences. 

Engagement with a range of stakeholders through various channels has allowed a wider audience to see how soil health can be measured and monitored on-farm in relatively simple terms, and highlighted some of the more challenging aspects around interpretation of biological indicators of soil health.

About the author
© Amanda Bennett

Dr Amanda Bennett is a Resource Management Scientist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), UK. Find out more about AHDB here.