Farming News - Innovative new project to bring farmers the TRUTH about their soils

Innovative new project to bring farmers the TRUTH about their soils

Cutting-edge UK ag-tech tools are coming together with research and development expertise to help farmers discover more about the role roots play in maintaining healthy soils.

Soil degradation currently costs England and Wales £1.2 billion every year, but few tools have been developed to measure soil and root health and how they interact.

The innovative TRUTH (Thriving Roots Underpinning Total soil Heath) project is a three-year, £1M Defra-funded project that will bring together experts in soil and root health, sensor technology and wheat genetics.

They will work alongside farmers who conduct trials on their own farms with the goal of identifying the tools they need to assess their crop roots and quantify the impact of their farming system.

A key part of this will be developing a novel sensor, developed by PES Technologies, capable of 'smelling' a soil's biological signature.

"Improving the resilience of soil is key to maintaining UK food security, improving farm productivity and mitigating climate change," says Tom Allen-Stevens from BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network), which is leading on farmer engagement for the project.

"Healthy soils play an important role in food production, climate change mitigation, and maintaining biodiversity. However, what goes unrecognised is the role of the roots that weave their way through them, drawing nutrients, transferring carbon, providing life to the complex microbiome that lies unseen beneath our feet.

"What we've brought together with TRUTH is some really exciting, cutting-edge technology that can open a window on this unexplored world.

"In addition, there are many desirable traits that rely on the interactions between crop and soil, such as drought tolerance, performance in marginal situations, nitrate modulation, and soil carbon sequestration. Through TRUTH, we will get a better understanding of the interactions that would enable breeders to identify the genes responsible. These can then be brought into breeding lines and help identify bioproducts that consistently enhance performance."

TRUTH is funded by the Farming Futures R&D fund, part of Defra's Farming Innovation Programme. Defra is working in partnership with Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency, who are delivering the programme.

The three-year, £1 million project will deliver two key innovations. First, it will build on work already carried out by PES Technologies to develop its innovative soil health sensor to enable it to measure microbial diversity and fungal:bacterial ratio.

Secondly, working closely with leading scientists at University of Nottingham and John Innes Centre, it will create the 'Root Rangers Platform', an online space offering on-farm soil/root health testing tools validated during the project by the farmers taking part.

"The project outcomes will deliver farmers the tools they need to assess their crop roots and quantify the impact of their farming system on soil health," Mr Allen-Stevens says.

"Support and inspiration will be delivered through a farmer-led community in which knowledge has true value. Accordingly, this brand-new platform will empower farmers to quantify the effect on productivity of new genetics and bioproducts.

"Ultimately, this will achieve our twin aims of boosting productivity while improving soil health. It will launch new opportunities to drive agriculture towards net zero, reduce reliance on synthetic inputs, and build the environmental benefits that accrue. This farmer-led platform will support resilient farming systems that are able to withstand the knocks as the effects of climate change take hold, providing growers with the confidence to keep continually improving levels of productivity and maintain a global food supply."

TRUTH will be led by BOFIN alongside PES Technologies, CHAP Agri-Tech Centre, John Innes Centre and University of Nottingham.