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    Soil health research and teaching at Harper Adams

    Posted 5 February 2021

    "By linking this research into our undergraduate teaching programme, we ensure that Harper Adams Agriculture students graduate with a robust knowledge"

    Ahead of his presentation to the DarwIN Festival on February 11th, Dr Simon Jeffery explains the value of soil-focused teaching and research.

    Soil is the foundation of farming; more than 99% of the calories that are consumed globally coming from, or supported by, crops grown in soil. However, some traditional, intensive soil management practices have been shown to lead to soil degradation over time, including loss of soil organic matter and increased susceptibility to erosion and compaction. This has led to increased recognition of the importance of soil health to support sustainable crop production.

    The term “soil health” is an evolution of the more traditional term “soil quality”, which includes a renewed emphasis on the biological component, rather than just the physical (soil texture & structure) and chemical (soil pH and nutrients) components of the soil. This is due to an increased understanding that much of the life in soil is beneficial for sustainability of farming, and how with the correct knowledge and skills, we can make it work for us.

    At Harper Adams we have an active soil health research programme. The research is evaluating claims surrounding new agri-tech, including the efficacy of biostimulants and agro-chemicals, and investigating the impacts of novel soil management methods. This work includes research into the impacts of different approaches associated with Conservation Agriculture, investigating the effects of novel organic amendments, such as digestates and humates, when applied to soil, identifying best practice in terms of cover crops (species mixtures, timing of establishment, and legacy effects on subsequent crops).

    By linking this research into our undergraduate teaching programme, we ensure that Harper Adams Agriculture students graduate with a robust knowledge of both traditional and contemporary approaches in farming. This ensures that Harper graduates can both appraise the health of soils where they farm, and know the steps required to maintain or improve that soil health and so ensure that they farm sustainably.

    By teaching students the underpinning theory and by drawing on our own cutting-edge research to demonstrate principles in practice, we can provide students with the necessary knowledge and understanding to effectively navigate and appraise the claims from the multitude of marketing from agri-tech and agronomy companies in this area. This will help ensure the sustainable use of our soils, and the sustainability of farming, for generations to come!

    Research undertaken at Harper Adams is also shared more widely with the general public, educating them on soil health matters and continuing conversations around sustainability in the agri-food chain. The next event on soil health will see Dr Simon Jeffery, Reader in Soil Ecology, presenting a guest lecture at the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival. There he will be sharing information on soil degradation and how understanding soils can benefit us all. The presentation will take place over Zoom, followed by a Q&A session, on February 11 at 7:30pm. Places for Dr Jeffery’s lecture are now open to bookings.

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