Soil management techniques unearthed at conference

EAST Anglian vegetable grower Produce World has given an insight into new developments in soil management.

Speaking at a conference organised by Waitrose and chaired by Dr Simon Bowen, agronomy director Guy Thallon, project manager for Produce World’s Soil-for-Life, demonstrated some of the innovative work being carried out at Produce World, which is based in Peterborough and operates throughout the region.

Delegates at the Waitrose Eastern Vegetable Conference on March 13 heard that Soil-for-Life focuses on the challenge of managing the massive complexity of soil.

At a farm level, this variability is managed on a field-by-field basis, using fertilisers, irrigation, pesticides, cultivations and other management practices to condition the soil for growing vegetables.

Soil-for-life involves collating and integrating information to work out whether current practices allow the industry to optimise the use of soils.

Central to the success of the project is the involvement of Produce World growers and their farm data holdings. The Soil-for-life grower portal, which is currently in development, will provide a web-based platform for users to upload data, view map layers, run queries on the aggregated Soil-for-life database and access knowledge-transfer material.

Mr Thallon said: “The Waitrose Eastern Vegetable Conference is a key event and a great arena for Produce World to present the Soil-for-Life project. This project represents a significant step towards big data approaches in soil science research. It will give us better access to the data required to understand how to quantify soil health, whilst providing a unique knowledge transfer mechanism to promote best practice back to land managers, farmers and advisers.”

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Soil management was further debated at the conference, with talks delivered on soil threats and opportunities for the Eastern region and soil compaction in a vegetable rotation.

Water challenges for the Eastern region catchments were also considered by Dr Rob Lillywhite from the Warwick Crop Centre and Jim Shanks, a dairy farmer, reviewed alternative energy options for farmers.

The agenda also included using organic amendments for soil improvement and nutrition and agronomic benefits and challenges. Anaerobic digestion and integration in farming systems were also discussed by leading names in the industry.

Pesticides had the final word as the future availability of crop protection products and alternative on-farm strategies were presented by Chris Wallwork of Agrii.

Speaking after the event Emma Garrod, Produce World’s research agronomist, said: “Several growers commented how dynamic and thought provoking the conference was, adding that it was a useful time away from the business to consider the challenges the industry faces, in particular soil, water and energy.”