AFBI Soil Conference showcases latest science

Date published: 31 October 2023

Area of Expertise:

The Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) recently held a Soil Conference at the La Mon Hotel and Country Club.

Speakers at the AFBI Soil Conference pictured with AFBI Directors Mr Pieter-Jan Schön (Back and centre) and Professor Elizabeth Magowan (Front and right)

A diverse audience of over 200 attendees including policy, academic and industry partners heard about the latest finding from the AFBI soil research programme as well as key message from other speakers representing Teagasc, NIAB, ADAS and Rothamsted Research.  Much of the AFBI work presented was underpinned by funding from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

The proceedings from the conference can be accessed through the following QR code.

A recording of the whole conference will be available through the AFBI website in due course.

Pieter-Jan Schon, AFBI’s director of Environmental and Marine Sciences, opened the conference by outlining the current and upcoming policy and legislation on a global, EU and UK level and within Northern Ireland regarding soil and soil health.  Dr Rachel Cassidy provided an overview of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme and early results from Zone 1.  Dr Suzanne Higgins provided an overview of research findings aligned with soil nutrient management and its relationship with pasture performance and water and air quality.

Dr Lisa Black’s presentation focused on soil health and in particular the impact of land management on soil health in its widest sense, i.e. in terms of physical, chemical and biological characteristics.  Lisa posed the question, ‘how do we measure soil health and what are the best indicators of soil health’? Dr Black, keen to change this, gave an update on research focussed on identifying metrics of soil biology suitable to the soils and conditions of Northern Ireland.  Dr Paul Cottney overviewed some research findings on the impact of land management on soil health, including the use of cover crops and organic manures in arable systems.  Dr Archie Murchie gave an insight to the role of earthworms in soil systems. 

AFBI were delighted to welcome Dr Elizabeth Stockdale from NIAB has led on the development of a Soil health Score card for England, Wales and Scotland and is currently in partnership with AFBI’s Lisa Black and Paul Cottney to develop a similar soil health score card for Northern Ireland.

Dr Marcelo Galdos from Rothamsted Research gave and overview of soil carbon stocks and sequestration, especially within a changing climate.  Marcelo focused on technology and modelling in complementarity with long term experimental plots to understand the future ability of soils to sequester carbon.

Dr John Williams from ADAS gave a broad overview of the value of nutrients from manures and the importance of precision application of these to protect water and air quality.

Dr John Finn’s (Teagasc) presentation focused on the impacts of multi-species swards on soil characteristics and how such systems can enhance crop performance, even under dry conditions.

Over the day speakers outlined how new technology, such as remote sensing, can create high resolution sampling of fields to improve overall understanding of soil carbon and soil fertility. This technology is critical to increase nutrient use efficiency going forward. Despite this novel technology, the spade was also highlighted as being just as important in its role in assessing soil structure and soil health.

Overall, the conference provided a rich and diverse overview of current and emerging scientific developments within the AFBI soil research programmes and from AFBI’s collaborators.

Notes to editors: 

AFBI’s Vision is “Scientific excellence delivering impactful and sustainable outcomes for society, economy and the natural environment”.

AFBI’s Purpose is “To deliver trusted, independent research, statutory and surveillance science and expert advice that addresses local and global challenges, informs government policy and industry decision making, and underpins a sustainable agri-food industry and the natural and marine environments”.

AFBI’s core areas:

  • Leading improvements in the agri-food industry to enhance its sustainability.
  • Protecting animal, plant and human health.
  • Enhancing the natural and marine environment.

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