Managing soils for survival: webinar explores the role of farming

CHAP’s Scientific Support Coordinator, Dr Alex McCormack, spoke about new frontiers in soil research, during a webinar hosted earlier this week.

The online ‘Managing soils for survival’ event was organised by the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI)’s Agrisciences Group, the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and CHAP.

It aimed to address what has gone wrong in managing soils, how the industry might fix it, and who needs to be influenced to achieve positive change.

Dr McCormack said: “Soil and crop health systems is one of five strategic focus areas for CHAP, so we were delighted to be invited to speak at the webinar.

“It’s important to recognise that it’s not just about looking down at the small microscopic world of soil, it’s also about assessing how that influences our environment, and therefore the wider consequences.

“This means there are both micro and macro viewpoints for soil research. From a micro perspective, using next-generation DNA sequencing means we can examine and understand microbial communities, not only to catalogue them, but also to examine their roles and functions as part of a ‘healthy’ soil.

“Meanwhile, imaging techniques such as X-ray tomography allow us unprecedented insights into the structure and physical function of soil.

“At a macro level, the increasing use of big data, satellite imaging and landscape scale technologies, helps us to start understanding complex environments and interactions better, not only across fields, regions and continents, but also, crucially, over time.

“Let’s not forget the human and environmental aspects either. It is important to improve our understanding of how soils provide crucial ecosystem services, support biodiversity and capture carbon, helping us to tackle the grand challenges we face such as climate change.”

The webinar was chaired by Professor Jane Rickson from CHAP partner Cranfield University, and also featured presentations from Laura Weatherhead of Croda, Dr Claudio Screpanti of Syngenta and Jake Freestone of Overbury Farms.

CHAP’s Soil Health Facility at Cranfield is playing an important part in the work to maintain and protect soils. For more information, read our overview of the current state of play, or view our case study on Using Roots to Bioengineer Soils. To find out more about Prof Rickson, take a look at our Conversation piece.

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