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Getting to the Roots of Soil Health with £1m Fund

A groundbreaking initiative, the TRUTH project, has been launched with a budget of £1 million, funded by Defra, to delve into the significant role that crop roots play in sustaining soil health and bolstering food production.

This three-year research endeavour aims to merge the forefront of UK agricultural technology with extensive research and development expertise. The objective is to equip farmers and growers with the knowledge and tools necessary to evaluate the role of roots in maintaining soil vitality.

The consortium leading this innovative project includes specialists in soil and root health, sensor technology, and wheat genetics. These experts are set to collaborate closely with farmers conducting on-farm trials, aiming to pinpoint the essential tools required for assessing crop roots and determining the impact of their farming practices on soil health.

A pivotal innovation within this project is the development of a novel sensor by PES Technologies. This sensor is designed to detect the biological signature of soil, essentially 'smelling' its health. This is particularly significant given the annual cost of soil degradation to England and Wales, which stands at £1.2 billion, and the current lack of tools for effectively measuring soil and root health and their interplay.

Tom Allen-Stevens of the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), which is spearheading farmer engagement for the project, highlighted the importance of soil resilience for UK food security, farm productivity, and climate change mitigation.

He noted that while the critical role of healthy soils in food production, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity maintenance is recognised, the essential function of roots within this ecosystem often goes unnoticed. Roots are vital for nutrient uptake, carbon transfer, and supporting the unseen complex microbiome beneath the soil.

The TRUTH project, funded by the Farming Futures R&D fund under Defra's Farming Innovation Programme, is a collaborative effort involving BOFIN, PES Technologies, CHAP Agri-Tech Centre, John Innes Centre, and the University of Nottingham.

It aims to deliver two key innovations: an advanced soil health sensor by PES Technologies for measuring microbial diversity and the fungal to bacterial ratio, and the 'Root Rangers Platform', an online resource for on-farm soil/root health testing tools, validated by participating farmers.

This initiative promises to provide farmers with the necessary tools to evaluate their crop roots and the impact of their farming systems on soil health. It seeks to foster a farmer-led community where knowledge is highly valued, empowering farmers to assess the productivity effects of new genetics and bioproducts.

Ultimately, the project aims to enhance productivity and soil health, driving agriculture towards net zero, reducing reliance on synthetic inputs, and amplifying environmental benefits.


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