Reading academics present soil science research to Sainsbury’s Farming Scholars

Professor Chris Collins and Dr Tom Sizmur gave presentations to a workshop on Soil Health and Management at Imperial College. The event marked the launch of the Inaugural Sainsbury’s Farming Scholars programme.

The Farming Scholars are representatives of growers that supply Sainsbury’s and are motivated to apply the latest scientific evidence to improving the sustainability of their operations and manage their soils more effectively.

Chris Collins introduced the current programme of soil science research recently funded by NERC and BBSRC, including the STARS (Soils Training And Research Studentships)  Centre for Doctoral Training and the ‘Soil & Rhizosphere Interactions for Sustainable Agri-ecosystems’ (SARISA) programme. Chris introduced his role in co-ordinating these activities across the country along with his administrative, and communications team based at The University of Reading

Tom Sizmur introduced some preliminary data from a suite of experiments at Rothamsted Research that he worked on as a postdoctoral researcher. The experiments reveal that the addition of organic matter to soils can rapidly increase earthworm number and biomass in soils. The earthworms break-up, incorporate and mix the organic materials into the soil. This is essentially a form of ‘biological cultivation’ which improves the structure of the soil, via the formation of aggregates and connected pore networks. He revealed that the structure of the soil was modified by the presence of earthworm burrows which makes it easier for plant roots to penetrate and for water to infiltrate. The larger, deeper root network that resulted from ‘biological cultivation’ increased the yield of cereal crops.