This year at Groundswell, AHDB has taken the 2018 event theme of ‘health’ on board and designed its soil pit to showcase the importance of soil health and help demonstrate the complexities of this subject. Soil health is an important focus for all farmers and growers to enable high yields, effective workability, future sustainability, nutrient cycling, soil biodiversity and more.

AHDB’s soil specialists Amanda Bennett and James Holmes will be on hand throughout the event to answer any questions and provide advice and information on AHDB’s extensive work in this area. Technical machinery and business information will also be available from Harry Henderson and Teresa Meadows, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Managers.

Dr Amanda Bennett says “AHDB has a wealth of really valuable information on soil management and we’re aiming to increase understanding of soil biology and develop a simple toolkit to measure and manage soil health. Visit our stand and soil pit to find out more about our work in this area.”

As part of the AHDB-BBRO Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership, a range of soil health indicators are being assessed and validated both on-farm and in research trials, alongside an interpretation framework. Thresholds for the indicators are being tested in different production systems and soil types. These include commonly used indicators such as pH and nutrients, as well as those that are increasingly being measured such as respiration, earthworms and soil organic matter. New indicators being developed and tested in the research trials focus on soil biology, for instance, DNA measures of pathogens and soil health, nematodes and microarthropods.

Using these indicators, a soil health scorecard is being developed, whereby farmers will be able to measure key physical, chemical and biological indicators to gain better understanding of their soil condition. Principles for improving and maintaining healthy soils include increasing organic matter inputs, increasing plant diversity and reducing tillage intensity.

Therefore, knowing your soils is key to being able to measure and manage soil health in an effective way:

Know soil textures to understand limits to workability and trafficability
Improve soil structure to provide an effective continuous pore space
Optimise water balance, through drainage if necessary
Maintain an optimum pH
Provide plant nutrients in the right amounts in the right place at the right time
Feed the soil regularly through plants and organic matter inputs
Move soil only when you have to
Diversify plants in space and time eg extended rotations and cover crops
Soil health encompasses good physical, chemical and biological condition. Indicators to help measure this include visual assessment of soil structure, nutrient analyses and earthworm counts.

The AHDB soil pit at Groundswell will focus on its GREATsoils programme of work and bring to life the investment being made by the organisation and demonstrate some of the early findings from the newly designed soil health scorecard and systems-based approaches for improving soil health.

Experts, Liz Stockdale and Felicity Crotty will be available through the day for practical soil discussions on soil structure, cover cropping and improving all-round soil health.

You will also be able to access technical information on earthworms, soil structure, drainage and soil biology and guidance on testing your own soil (also available at www.ahdb.org.uk/greatsoils)

AHDB provides a range of practical information on improving soil management and over the lifetime of the two soils partnerships, a range of additional resources, tools and guidelines will become available for farmers to better understand and manage their soils.

Visit us on our stand at Groundswell to learn more or go to www.ahdb.org.uk/greatsoils to access information on soil management.