South West Soil Discussion Group

South West Soil Discussion Group

The South West England Soils Discussion Group (SWESDiG) was set up in 1975 to stimulate interest in the study of soils in the Region, and provide a means whereby individuals from different institutions and fields of activity can meet to discuss problems and topics of common interest.Membership of the group is free. Meetings are organised on an ad hoc basis on selected themes relevant to the wider study of soils, land use and the environment in the South West.

Group Chair: Dr Martin Blackwell

Group Secretary: Dr Rob Parkinson

Contact SWESDiG

Latest posts

Soils In Practice - South

Event date: 
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Event venue: 
Russell Smith Farms, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Event description: 

Farmers Weekly’s Soils In Practice is returning for two one-day conferences.

Soils in Practice brings together experts and industry professionals from across the UK agricultural sector, providing a platform to discuss the latest advances in boosting soil fertility and best practice in soil management.

The event aims to help farmers understand some of the practical steps that can be taken to measure and promote healthy soil in a sustainable farm setting.

Experts will present interactive theoretical and practical sessions on topics including: measuring soil components, nutrient management and pest mitigation, cover crops, organic matter utilisation and the likely implications of incoming legislation on soil health.


The original part of estate, 350-acre College Farm, entered the Smith family in 1938 as tenanted land and has been in the Smith family ever since. Land acquisitions and tenancies have seen it grow to its current size of almost 3,000 acres surrounding the south Cambridgeshire village of Duxford.

The current farm owner and manager, Robert Smith, joined the business in 1975 and has overseen the transition from a 1,000 acre cereal farm to an enterprise with a significant focus on vegetable production. the farm still grows 1,000 acres of wheat but now also includes 350 acres potatoes and 100 acres of onion which are sold to all the major supermarkets.

Organic Production

Since 1998, the farm has grown its organic production to over 400 acres, much of which is sold to Waitrose. This learnings from this change has led to reduced chemical use on the conventional, non-organic crops and the farm is keen to share these lessons with other farmers.


The majority of land is free-draining and sits on light sandy loam soil overlying gravel or chalk, with small pockets of clay throughout the farm. Minimal tillage is carried out on soils growing cereals and stale seedbeds are used to grow the farm’s organic produce, for potatoes and sugar beet deep cultivation is emplyed. To support the increased vegetable growth, the farm has invested in an extensive irrigation system comprising several on-site reservoirs and 28km of underground water mains.

Research & Innovation

Research and innovation are vital for the business and building strong relationships with the UK agricultural industry has meant that science can inform day-to-day farming practice. KWS and RAGT have research offices on the faarm and Syngenta and Bayer both run various crop trials on-site.

Robert is also a co-founder of AgriTech East, current member of Cambridge University agri-tech group and has invested in several agricultural technology start-ups including artificial intelligence company Hummingbird Technologies.


Environmental accountability and sustainable production are central tenets of the way Robert wants the farm to operate and is part of various steweardship and monitor farm programmes. They are a LEAF and Waitrose demonstration farm and 5% of the farm area is counted as higher level stewardship land.


• 1,000 acres of wheat                     • 300 acres of sugar beet
• 400 acres organic oats                  • 100 acres of onions
• 350 acres of potatoes •

For full details and to book your ticket

Organic Matters: UK Horticulture Conference

Event date: 
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Event venue: 
Trinity Centre, Bristol, United Kingdom
Event description: 

Organic Matters will be hosting 150 delegates from organic and regenerative horticulture. We will facilitate the exchange of technical knowledge through an exciting programme of speaker sessions (8 in total). There will be plenty of opportunities for networking between delegates and speakers. The sessions will be recorded and available after the event for those who cannot attend. We hope to establish the conference as an annual event which will grow over the coming years. Expect technical sessions covering themes such as soil health, pest & disease management, plant science, mentoring and work efficiency.

Organic Growers Alliance (OGA) is at the helm of this conference. OGA is a community interest company and member organisation made up of organic food growers and horticulturalists from across the UK. It is steered by a group of
voluntary directors who felt there was a real need for a conference focusing on the technical side of horticulture to help those in the sector expand their knowledge, push forward new ideas and give an opportunity for membership to come together.

Organic Matters day-tickets are now on sale and cost £35/£45 + booking fees (members/non-members) which includes 8 x 90-minute sessions, industry stalls, networking opportunities with the other 150 delegates and refreshments.

There will be an organic lunch available on site at an affordable price (not included in ticket). 

OGA will be organising an evening before meet-up as well as a farm walk at Sims Hill Shared Harvest on the Wednesday morning following the conference.

June 2019: An Update from Dan

I am writing this on one of those days when the skies decide to ‘spring clean’ the Earth. Strong gusts are vacuuming the dust from the country lanes that run like skirting boards around green carpets of cropland and pasture. Clouds unite to form impenetrable ceilings of lead from which millions of droplets are preparing to polish the rooftops. As I write, my train carriage window is becoming freckled with a shimmering galaxy of watery stars. Is there anything more inspiring than a clouded day?

Finding Fertile Fields for the Future

Event date: 
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Event venue: 
Penyard House, Weston under Penyard, Ross on Wye United Kingdom
Event description: 

Soils are a key resource to the agricultural production system, yet 33% of arable top soil has been lost globally in the last 40 years. In England and Wales at current rates of usage it is estimated that we have just 100 harvests left.

It is essential that we understand our soils so that we can use and manage them in a productive and sustainable way. If you are passionate about soils, come and join the debate on 4th June 2019 and help develop solutions that will keep our firlds fertile for the future.


CHAPS Members £50

Non Members £60


Maximising the Value of Home Grown Forage

Event date: 
Friday, April 5, 2019
Event venue: 
Rothamsted Research, North Wyke near Okehampton, Devon, United KIngdom
Event description: 

This event is being held as part of the Cornwall Agritech programme at Rothamsted Research, North Wyke near Okehampton, Devon

This free workshop provides an exceptional chance to participate with actual "grassroots" research projects which are examining how the value of homegrown forage can be maximised, therefore leading to enhanced resource efficiency, financial savings, reduced environmental impacts and improved ecological diversification. 

Are you a veterinary practice, sensor developer, parasite specialist, animal health & welfare specialist, meat quality analyser, fencing contractor, animal nutritionist, sward yield and mapping specialists silage contractor, seed company, consultant, agronomist, speciality crop producer, fertiliser supplier, environmental advisor, contract grower, agricultural advisor or economist? Then this event is for you.

Discover how maximising the value of forage can lead to enhanced efficiency, financial savings and reduced environmental impacts for the agricultural sector.

We want to hear from you about where the opportunities are and what needs to be done to make the best use of our fantastic homegrown forage resource. 

For more details and to book your FREE PLACE please go to

Or contact Kirsty Tooke (event organiser) on 01837 512 305 or


SWSDG news and request for help

Dear all,

Hopefully now it's mid-March you have some flowers blooming around you and blossom on the trees (let's not ponder too long on the wind and rain!).

In soils news, there are several things to tell you about: three upcoming events, an interesting radio programme, and a request for help - people in Cornwall, this is especially for you.


SWSDG events this spring: