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NIAB discusses Soil Nutrient Management in the Innovation Hub 2022

Meet the Network

As the cost of inputs increases, farmers are looking towards ‘soil nutrient management’ to more closely match nutrient inputs, such as fertilisers and organic manures to crop demand at different stages of its lifecycle. Applying excessive nutrients, or those that are not ‘bio-available’, are a wasted resource.  NIAB will be discussing technology used to support soil nutrient management in the Innovation Hub.

Soil nutrient management

The evidence-base for this planning comes from long-term trials. NIAB will be discussing the findings from the Saxmundham experimental site, which has been supported by the Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) and delivered by NIAB since 2015. The trials are not just looking at the optimal nutrient rates for Phosphorus but also how these rates are best delivered. For this the effects of mineral fertiliser, organic manures, compost, or foliar applications of phosphate are compared by taking a wide range of soil and agronomic measurements throughout the growing season.

The data obtained will guide growers to manage phosphorus inputs ensuring increased productivity, while limiting any negative environmental impacts.

David Clarke of NIAB

David Clarke of NIAB Soils and Farming Systems, and a PhD student at Cranfield University, explains: “Changes to soil properties can be slow and it may take a number of years of applications for any benefit to become apparent.

“For example after around 100 years of farmyard manure application at the Saxmundham experimental site soil organic matter has only increased by 0.7% (an 18% relative increase), however we are now seeing large benefits to soil and the crop health from this, so we are not expecting to see any significant differences in yield responses between the applications in the short-term.

“This highlights why long-term trials are so important to agricultural research.

“The New Farming Systems trial program has investigated the impact of different cultivations and rotations on economic performance and soil health over the last 15 years. As these projects have recently been extended to continue until at least 2028, some adjustments have been made to the trial to better address the challenges of modern agricultural systems.”

Agri-Tech for soil analysis

NIAB is also using a range of technology to gain greater insights into the benefits of each soil treatment.

“In trials investigating nutrient availability, we are using grain nutrient testing along with soil nutrient analysis to compare how supply, soil conditions and crop uptake are interconnected,” continues David. “With the support of PhD students we can use other sensing technology such as gamma ray spectrometry and electrical conductivity scanning to detect changes in soil properties, either through treatment or natural variation, and how this can be better managed.”

The Morley Agricultural Foundation has also been supporting long term trials investigating fungicide response in wheat and barley, with data sets stretching back to the 1980s.

“As technology develops, the range and accuracy of our soil and crop assessments improves. For example, in our winter wheat and barley fungicide trials we are utilising molecular diagnostics to identify the presence of disease before it is visible in the crop,” he says.

NIAB will be talking about the technology used for soil and nutrient analysis and the results of the trials in the Innovation Hub.

Innovation Hub 2022