“Soil underpins the vast majority of agribusinesses in the UK,” says Professor Jane Rickson of Cranfield University’s Soil and AgriFood Institute, which is hosting the latest workshop by Smart-AKIS and Agri-Tech East on 14th September. Digital models with technologies such as GIS and remote sensing can improve soil health and optimise water use efficiency; the practical aspects of adopting these technologies will be discussed amongst farmers, technologists and researchers on the day.
Technologies developed to prevent soil degradation are essential, with the issue costing England and Wales an estimated £0.9bn - £1.4bn per year
Research by Professor Jane Rickson, Dr Rob Simmons and other members of Cranfield University’s Soil and AgriFood Institute will be shared, alongside presentations from technology companies.
“Historically, soil surveys were time-consuming and costly. Nowadays, field sensors are increasingly used to monitor soil properties such as nutrients, bulk density/compaction and moisture content over space and time,” continues Professor Rickson. “Results can inform better targeting of fertilisers, tillage and irrigation, leading to more efficient use of resources and reduction in input costs. Soil structure can also be measured using novel applications of CT and X-ray scanning.”
Cranfield is using ‘big data’, from the AHDB Horticulture funded ‘Soil Management Information System’ project. Large datasets from horticultural growers are combined with scientific evidence from previous research to identify patterns in the data to inform future soil management decisions.
Dr Simmon’s Soil-for-life is one of the technology companies presenting. The start-up, led by CEO Jonathan Tole, was a finalist at Agri-Tech East’s 2017 GROW business plan competition – it is helping farmers to use ‘big data’ throughout the agrifood value chain to improve farm productivity.
Other companies in attendance will include Delta-T Devices, NIAB, Precision Decisions and Soil Moisture Sense.
“Current research using a combination of sensor technologies and remote sensing methods is showing how data on above- and below-ground crop traits can accelerate breeding new varieties and improve our understanding how yield and grain quality respond to inputs and different soil and climatic conditions,” says Dr Eric Ober, Senior Research Scientist and Crop Physiologist at NIAB.
“On farm, this information, combined with computer models of crop growth and development, can be packaged into new decision support tools. For instance, knowledge of the dynamics of canopy formation, or the ability of roots to access water deep in the soil profile, can help inform variety choice and how the crop is managed. It is now quite easy to collect volumes of data: the challenge is to make use of these data in a way that guides actions that can improve yields, reduce costs and benefit the environment.”
Tony Peloe, Export Sales & Business Development Manager at Delta-T Devices, specialists in moisture sensors will also be presenting. He says: “I’m hoping to meet people who are interested in monitoring and control, or who are looking to add our soil sensors to their systems, and to kick start collaboration.
“I will give an update about developments in our soil moisture range and our involvement in the WET (Water Efficient Technologies) Centre based at East Malling Research where our products are combined to achieve precision irrigation for soft fruit production.”
The WET Centre houses trickle irrigation systems, and will expand to include tree fruit and salad crops in the future.
Following the short talks from technologists and academics, there will be a workshop for the sharing of ideas and insights on future innovation and the potential for commercial uptake.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East comments: “Soil health and water use efficiency is essential now and into the future, with intensive practices leading to loss of resources. The workshop will bring together the best minds and we look forward to the outcome.”
There will also be an opportunity to visit some of the research facilities at Cranfield, including CHAP (Crop Health and Protection) and Agri-EPI AgriTech Centres of Agricultural Innovation.
The Smarter Farming for Soils Heath and Water Management meeting will take place at Cranfield University on the 14th of September 2017. To register for this free event, please click here.