A new 1 million AHDB research call marks the start of a five-year partnership initiative to devise and implement a programme of research on soil health and biology.
The call is the result of a collaboration between AHDBs crop and livestock sectors and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO).
It aims to complement research which is being commissioned as part of the recent 1.5 million call for soil and water research partnerships issued by AHDB. This call focused on the management of rotations, soil structure and water. The resulting applications are currently being assessed.
Outcomes arising from the latest call will greatly improve knowledge of soil biology, including how it can be measured and managed in agricultural systems.
It is hoped that the results will build understanding of the multitude of organisms living in the soil including earthworms, nematodes, protozoa,fungi and bacteria and, crucially, their role in crop and livestock productivity.
Dr Bill Parker, AHDB Director of Research & Knowledge Exchange forCrops, said: We are opting for a partnership approach because it is a flexible funding model which allows researchers from across research and industry to work together.
It also promotes dynamic research that can flex in response to new information, rather than research that remains on a course fixed in year one.
This is vital for any research programme investigating soil biology as it is a field of science with so many unknowns.
The flexibility will also allow the Research Partnership to build on existing AHDB collaborations and leverage funding from other sources, such asPGRO, UK Research Councils, Scottish Government and Innovate UK.
Why soil biology and health?
Soil organisms are important to understand because they play a key role in the decomposition of organic matter and nutrient cycling. They also contribute to field drainage by promoting the formation of drainage channels and opening up soil structure. It is also known that some soil microorganisms can help suppress disease or even promote plant growth.
In recent years, interest in soil health has increased and a range of indicators for soil biology has been developed. However, often these indicators have not been produced in parallel with the necessary guidance and tools to allow them to be exploited readily by growers, farmers and advisors.
Dr Parker added: If we are to manage soils effectively, we need robust knowledge of soil physics, soil chemistry and soil biology.
Information on soil physics, such as structure and texture, and chemistry, such as nutrient status, is widely available, or is being addressed by current research, but biological information remains poorly understood.
Indicative AHDB investment is c. 200,000 per annum over five years(September 2016August 2021). Indicative BBRO total investment is 150,000
The investment includes all AHDB crop and livestock sectors, except AHDBPork
Applications must be submitted to AHDB by 12:00 28 April 2016
Applicants will be notified of the outcome on 20 July 2016
For an introduction to soil biology, view the AHDB creative video animation published last summer to reveal the hidden world beneath a growers boots.