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One of the earthworms found in a soil sample in Shropshire

By Jeremy Lelean, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading

Soil, from being an overlooked area of research, is now considered an area of vital interest in the solution to many of the global problems of we currently face. A key idea of how to manage our soil is the notion of soil health, which was referred to regularly in the newly published DEFRA Twenty-Five Year Environment Plan.

Measuring soil health, however, is a vexed question as there are a number of potential indicators that can be used. One of these is earthworm numbers, but numbers alone may not give a good picture of soil health overall. As part of the Soil Security Programme, fellow Dr Jackie Stroud has developed a method that is more indicative of soil health than simple earthworm numbers.

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By Professor Donal O’Sullivan, Professor of Crop Science in the School of Agriculture, University of Reading

Unfavourable weather patterns and their impact on crop production have again been a major talking point in farming circles. Bizarrely, whilst the total amount of rainfall in 2017 to date is very close to the historic average, it has been distributed in a very unhelpful way (as data from the University’s Meteorology Department weather station helpfully plotted out in an up-to-the-minute annual graph shows).

Weather data from the University of Reading shows the drought in April and summer deluge

First and foremost, there was almost no meaningful rainfall for a six-week period spanning the calendar month of April, when crops were going through their most rapid phase of growth. But to compound matters, there was an unusual deluge in the second half of July, when dry conditions would have been more conducive to straightforward ripening and harvest.

Assessing the impact of this latest extreme weather episode was the subject of a BBC South Today news piece I contributed to on Tuesday evening. The research team I am leading in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development may have some answers. We designed a large field experiment designed both to quantify yield losses due to drought and to detect varieties with drought-beating characteristics.

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