Breaking- STEP

Project Detail

Breaking- STEP

THE SARIC CHALLENGE: This translation project was directly formulated in response to a major industry challenge presented by Duncan Rose (Cawood Scientific) at the recent SARIC Sandpit Event. The challenge is to "understand why there is a poor uptake of soil analysis across the UK livestock sector and to design novel recommendation and interpretation systems for livestock farming systems". To address this, Bangor University and Rothamsted Research have teamed up with five influential industrial partner organisations (Cawood Scientific, British Grassland Society, RSK ADAS, Charlie Morgan GrassMaster Ltd & AHDB) alongside a range of associate partners (e.g. NIAB, Welsh Government, Yara- Lancrop, Farming Connect, Eurofins, SoilCares etc.). Their commitment to the project is highlighted in the numerous letters of support. NATURE OF THE PROBLEM: Soils represents a vital resource within UK livestock production systems and it is important that they are well managed to ensure the long-term economic survival of the industry. Fundamental to this is the regular testing of the soil to make sure that there is no chemical, physical or biological imbalances that either constrain production or cause environmental damage. While uptake of standard soil testing by farmers within the arable sector is high, there is compelling evidence that the opposite is true for the livestock sector. Consequently, despite encouragement from policymakers, regulators and farming organisations, numerous studies have shown that soils under livestock production in the UK are frequently sub-optimal in terms of their P and K status and soil pH, as well as soil structure. Ultimately, this lack of testing causes reductions in yields due to excess acidity, under-fertilisation and compaction, while in some cases, over fertilization results in wasting money on fertiliser and increasing the risk of environmental losses. This is resulting in underperforming farms and economic losses across the livestock sector. In the current era of sustainable intensification, it is essential that nutrients are used efficiently, and yield gaps are closed through simply 'getting the basics right', resulting in improved resource utilisation and farm incomes. This suggests that current strategies to promote soil testing are not working well and that new approaches are required. Looking to the future, it is also clear that the livestock sector will probably have to embrace soil-based agri-tech to retain its competitive advantage. Based on current evidence, it is likely that the adoption of these new methods of soil testing may also be very slow. A critical assessment of the barriers to adopting (i) basic soil testing, (ii) more comprehensive soil testing, and (iii) emerging technologies is therefore required. TACKLING THE ISSUE AND OUTCOMES: In response to this challenge, and together with our industrial partners, we have designed six interlinked work-packages (WP) to tackle the problem from multiple angles. Firstly, we will map the spatial and temporal trends in soil testing within the UK (WP1). Secondly, we will identify the major barriers which prevent farmers from undertaking soil testing (WP2). Thirdly, we will set up on-farm demonstrations to illustrate the benefits of soil testing in areas where adoption is poor (WP3). Looking to the future, we will also evaluate what soil-based agri-tech solutions are on the horizon and evaluate the likelihood that farmers will adopt these technologies (WP4). This information will provide the foundation for a series of participatory workshops and dissemination events with the stakeholder community to demonstrate the benefits of soil testing to grassland farmers (WP5). Lastly, we will synthesise all the information in WP1- 5 to produce an industry-focused road map for promoting life-long adoption of soil testing within the livestock industry (WP6). We expect to see tangible benefits to the industry within 5 years of this project commencing.

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