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.
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)?