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Nidderdale AONB Hay Making (c) Paul Harris

Farming for the Nation: Environmental Land Management Scheme


The Tests and Trials programme has been structured to allow for new ideas to be tested in the context of ELMS. Defra is keen that ELMS has the capability to be expanded to include new concepts as they are developed, and the T&T process is the starting point for this. New ideas are being tested in the current round of trials, and the results will be used in defining the structure of ELMS. Once the first round has finished in 2021, there will be scope for new trials to test new ideas to see how they fit into ELMS.

Soil scanning technologies in the Tamar Valley AONB

A range of new soil scanning technologies may have the capability to assess the Natural Capital position of the soil, and the capacity of the soil to deliver ecosystem benefits. It might be possible for the technology available to give an indication of the health of the soil, and hence help target farming practices that will improve soil health and provide environmental benefits. The Tamar Valley AONB is testing this innovative hypothesis via the following programme:

  • Does a mix of new-to-market technologies provide consistent results, against a baseline of traditional methods of soil assessment?
  • Does this enable measurement of the health of the soil?
  • How can these results be used in practice to deliver environmental benefits by improving soil health and carbon sequestration?
  • What advice is needed to help farmers create a suitable programme of works?
  • Can this provide the basis for a farm-based payment system?

Our partners at Duchy College, via the well-established Soil Carbon project, have identified 15 farms and studied their soil profile. 5 of these farms have been sampled over a long period and have a long-term dataset as part of the trials carried out by North Wyke (part of the Rothamsted Research programme). The other farms have been chosen to represent a broad range in terms of geography, soil type and land management operations to give comprehensive coverage. All farms identified have agreed to take part in the T&T programme.

Test and Trials has provided the opportunity to start discussions around capacity building on gathering soil carbon and other soil related data. The Soil Carbon project is well established and can be used to start to identify longer-term trends. However, because of the labour-intensive nature of the existing ‘testing by hand’ methodology, mechanisation of the process by utilising soil scanner technology has the potential to offer a wider picture on a landscape scale.

A picture of a ploughed field

Existing uses of soil scanning include identifying management areas and yield potentials (when combined with other data), and reduction of soil sampling costs by identifying sampling targets. This project will study whether 3 methods that measure different chemical, physical and biological soil properties (conductivity, pH, organic matter, and certain radioactive isotopes) at a range of depths can be used to ascertain the soil’s natural capital status. The collection of data is quick and non-invasive.

A picture of a ploughed field

This project has the capacity to help farmers manage the resource that is their soil, increasing catchment-scale carbon sequestration and building economic viability in the face of climate change. It’s an innovative use of cutting-edge technology in a practical way, helping farmers improve the quality of their soil while underpinning financial sustainability.

Hear more on the research and its aims from Becky Wilson at Duchy College in the video below!