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Agri-EPI network explores the importance of soil health

Agri-EPI Centre hosted a member community online special interest group titled Exploring the importance of soil health, that brought farmers and tech developers from across the agri-tech sector together online to discuss the value of soil health and soil sampling and opportunities for the use of technology to improve soils and performance.

The event was chaired by Claire Hodge, Head of Agri-Tech (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre, and discussions were led by Kelsey Daly, student at Agri-EPI Centre, Andrew Francis, Co-Founder at Team AG UK, and Jake Freestone, Farm Manager at Overbury Farms.

Kelsey Daly began the conversation with an overview of the soils questionnaire that was handed out to the farmers in Agri-EPI’s innovation farm network. Many farmers reported that their soils had improved in recent years and that they were taking actions such as implementing mixed farming practices and reducing fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to aid in this improvement. Recommendations emerges such as a greater emphasis on research into reliable carbon sampling, the creation of compatible tech platforms for collection and storage of data and the development of a soil mapping platform.

Andrew Francis then discussed the need for a faster pace in delivering these technologies. He dove into the evolution of farming practices from historical physical samples, soil pits and manual and observational practices, to current remote sensing, soil and yield mapping practices, to future robots, drones, satellites, automation, modelled data and plant monitoring.

“The industry needs underpinning with a fast-learning model.”

Jake Freestone, one of our innovation farmers, discussed the importance of soil health on farm from a farmer’s perspective. On his farm, Jake works with 3 types of soil and each one has different characteristics and management needs. He explained that soil is at the heart of everything they do as farmers, no matter what kind of farm or what sector they work in.

“Soil is a hugely living organism which needs to be treated with a huge amount of respect”.

“The time for experimentation needs to be now”.

Discussion followed, where a number of questions were posed from the audience, and an array of thought-provoking answers were shared. A main takeaway was the huge number of opportunities available around soil health. Agri-EPI’s focus is finding the right opportunities and exploring them with our network and farmers to make sure the sector continues to deliver successful solutions for sustainable and innovative food production.


Questions included:

What would you need to help you speed up the regeneration of your soils?

Is there any need to reduce the cost or increase the density (time and space) of soil sampling?

What impact do you think healthier soils has had on yields and costs?

Discussing testing, do you test for microbiology and soil food web too?

Do you have a definition of regenerative farming in relation to soil? Do you think regenerative farming is possible?

What are the Carbon opportunities for the future?

Where do you see the future of organic fertiliser (solid and liquid)?

Agri-EPI expands offering with Life Cycle Assessment service

Agri-EPI Centre has recently added a new service to our offering: Life Cycle Assessment. Life Cycle Assessment is an internationally standardised method of evaluating the environmental impacts of a product, process, or service. This is done by quantifying an array of impacts at each life stage of the subject and summing them up to create a comprehensive picture of the affects the subject has on the environment. The impacts assessed include fossil fuel extraction, greenhouse gas emissions, water eutrophication, soil acidification, land usage and many more.

Agri-EPI Centre’s Chief Technology Officer, Trisha Toop, has been a Life Cycle Assessment Practitioner for over 10 years. In that time, she has amassed a wealth of experience in assessing novel agri-tech and industrial biotechnology products and processes. She has brought this expertise to Agri-EPI where she leads the company’s technical and sustainability efforts.

Trisha said:

“Including Life Cycle Assessment in our portfolio of offerings to agricultural technology companies will offer them a credible way to assess the environmental sustainability of their product. Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific method for quantifying sustainability and can arm technology developers with the information they need to ensure their product is effectively combatting climate change.”

Trisha is now mentoring Emily Laskin, Agri-EPI Centre’s new Agri-Tech Sustainability Analyst, in Life Cycle Assessment.

After receiving her Biosystems Engineering degree at University of California, Davis, Emily brought her expertise to Edinburgh where she became Farms Technical Coordinator at Agri-EPI. After three years working closely with our innovation farmers while developing her technical and analytical skills, she has now transitioned into the role of Agri-Tech Sustainability Analyst. She will be delivering the sustainability analysis of R&D projects for agricultural clients across the UK as well as leading Agri-EPI’s sustainability efforts and providing a framework for sustainability within the company.

Life Cycle Assessment is crucial for the end-user, which in the case of agricultural technology, is the farmer. Sustainability has become a point of contention in the farming community, as some farmers feel they have been manipulated into utilising less productive and less cost affective farming methods in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal: net-zero.

Emily said:

“Sustainability has become incredibly important in today’s market, but the term is poorly defined and often used as a marketing tool. We want to ensure that the technology we are recommending to farmers is proven to decrease their environmental impact through scientifically founded means. Applying quantifiable methods of sustainability will prove to farmers that they are not being taken advantage of and instead are actively contributing to the country’s climate change mitigation strategy.”

This also may become useful when farms are completing carbon audits. Having LCA-certified equipment on farm will increase the accuracy of the carbon audit and may enable access to carbon-related government grants.

Life Cycle Assessment is just the beginning of Agri-EPI’s sustainability offering.

“Our vision is to offer a full package of assessments, analysing all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and financial. We believe a product must be interrogated in each of these categories before being labelled as ‘sustainable’ – in other words, it must be cost effective, have minimal to no negative environmental impact, and it must support the health and well-being of the communities it affects.”

LCA brochure