SoilSquash: Development of a fibre optic soil compaction sensor

This project will develop a novel method for detecting compaction based on fibre optic technology. This will use detectable variations in the refractive index of fibre optic sensors to identify the changes in soil density as a result of soil compaction.

We need to feed a growing global population through sustainable intensification of our current land resources. However the continued productivity of agricultural soils is threatened by various pressures, one of which is soil compaction from agricultural machinery. Compaction causes changes in the soil structure and pore space, with negative effects on crop growth and yield. Currently there are few reliable, practicable methods for measuring changes in soil compaction. This project will seek to provide a cheap, practical alternative to laborious and costly laboratory-based assessments. The student will join the engineering photonics group at Cranfield and the soil physics groups at Cranfield and Rothamsted Research.

An equal opportunities employer

Providing satellite-based soil and crop productivity indicator maps for on-farm management

The student will be engaged in optimising soil resource management by coupling spatial data with dynamic indicators derived from high frequency satellite data provided by Sentinel-1 and -2 of the ESA Copernicus Programme. The student will be a member of a highly dynamic and international research group interpreting remotely-sensed data using advanced GIS and modelling techniques.

An equal opportunities employer

Linking soil characteristics to the wheat ionome in multi-site field trials using rapid dry spectral analyses

Improved nutrient use efficiency is an essential component of sustainable crop production. This requires information linking elemental concentrations in crops (the crop ‘ionome’) to soil characteristics and management. Establishing the link between these using conventional wet analytical techniques is cumbersome and beyond the means of farmers in many parts of the world. However, recently-developed dry spectral techniques offer a more practical approach.  Rothamsted Research is currently establishing a dry spectral lab in collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre. The lab facilities include MIR and NIR reflectance spectroscopy, X-ray flourcescence and laser particle analysis. The student will use these, together with conventional wet analytical techniques, to analyse crop and soil materials from multi-site field trials so as to develop a predictive soil-crop ionomics framework.

An equal opportunities employer

A novel Soil Organic Carbon Measurement and Indexing System

This breakthrough will enable the development of certification and reward schemes for good soil organic management practices. The project will draw on extensive soil archives and accompanying infrared spectral and reference property databases available through Rothamsted Research and Cranfield University in the UK and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Kenya.  The student will work with scientists in the UK and Africa, conduct lab and field work with dry spectral methods at Rothamsted, and engage with potential users at farm, government and industry levels.

An equal opportunities employer

A loss function approach to optimal sensor configuration for soil sensing

Farming practices must deal with the inherent variability in the natural environment. Fields often follow natural delineations in the landscape, and ploughing, planting and harvest operations seek to reduce variability or to actively manage it. If fertiliser and pesticide use is sufficiently intense it effectively sweeps away the effects of natural variability. But this has negative consequences for the environment, apart from being inefficient.

Advances in sensor technology and agricultural equipment are allowing farmers to become far more precise in their use of chemicals. They also allow more variation in crop type or crop density in a field without compromising yields, resulting in a more environmental, ecological agriculture. The studentship will seek to develop spatial analytical and modelling tools for optimal deployment of such technologies.

An equal opportunities employer

How to deliver an improved UK agriscience sector outside of the EU

Rothamsted Research and the NFU convened a workshop at Rothamsted Research amongst leading agricultural science, technology and knowledge transfer organisations in the UK. The workshop discussions focused on identifying the key areas of focus in order to have a world leading agriscience sector in the UK after Brexit. The statement below summarises the emerging recommendations from the workshop.


Notes to Editors

Adding evidence to decision making regarding cover and catch crops

The use of cover and catch crops is becoming more common place in UK agriculture. There are many potential benefits of such practices including prevention of soil erosion and leaching of nitrate, improvement of infiltration and adding carbon to the soil. Cover crops have the potential to promote a range of ecosystem services, however, at present there has been very little investigation of which crops do this best. Cover and catch crops must display specific traits to be of benefit to the grower in different rotational positions and thereby justify seed and planting costs; compatibility with cash crops, strong root penetration, growth in low temperature and light conditions and zero seed return. This project will work towards providing an evidence base for growers to make decisions on which cover crops to use.

An equal opportunities employer

Breeding oilseed rape varieties for pollinator-friendly traits

In recent years, some beekeepers have suggested that hybrid varieties of OSR may provide inferior nectar for pollinators compared with traditional open-pollinated varieties.  Scientists at Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the BBSRC, the University of Exeter and Newcastle University tested whether the amount and quality of nectar produced by glasshouse-grown oilseed rape plants vary between crop variety, and more fundamentally, between three conventional breeding systems used to create the varieties.


Notes to Editors


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