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.


Farm advice on benefits of organic matter for soil structure and crop yield from Tom Sizmur

On Tuesday 10th February Dr. Tom Sizmur met with growers in Essex and Hertfordshire at Manuden Village Community Centre to talk about how soil structure and crop yield can be improved by adding organic matter to soils and boosting earthworm populations.

Tom presented results from a suite of field experiments designed to demonstrate that cereal crop yield could be improved by adding organic matter to soils because the organic matter acts as a food source for earthworms.  Research was carried out in collaboration with Rothamsted Research.  The earthworms reduce the strength of the soil and provide a medium that enables plant roots to establish faster.


This presentation was part of an ongoing contribution to a suite of workshops delivered by the Soil and Water Management Centre in partnership with Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme. The workshop was introduced by Sarah Asberry, the Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer for the Mimshall Brook, Upper Roding and Upper Lee & Stort catchments. Other topics covered included soil biology and health by Professor Karl Ritz of Nottingham University, and cover crops from agronomist Nick Green of T Denne & Sons.