Rothamsted to explore role of soil microbiomes

DEFRA’s Farming Innovation Programme has awarded Eagle Genomics, leveraging science from Rothamsted Research and CABI, a £391k award to explore the vital role of soil microbiomes by analysing data signatures between different agricultural practises and linking these to develop a soil health barometer.

The award – to be delivered in partnership with Innovate UK’s Transforming Food Production (TFP) Challenge – aims to give farmers and growers solutions for improved arable productivity with less impact on the environment.

As well as novel data analysis and insights using Eagle Genomics’ innovative e[datascientist] platform, this two-year feasibility study will utilise soil from sites in the ASSIST farm network, which are also included in the BBSRC funded UK Crop Microbiome Cryobank project, as well as Rothamsted long term experimental fields. It also builds on Rothamsted’s past research in understanding biological, physical, and chemical elements of soil health.

Dr Yvonne Pinto, Director of Strategy, Innovation, Sustainability and Bioeconomy, Ag Bio at Eagle Genomics, said, “Eagle Genomics will analyse data signatures between different agricultural practises and link these to develop a barometer for soil health, while CABI will biobank these samples for provenance.

“This will increase understanding of the effect of different agricultural practices on the functionalities of healthy and poor soil indicators.”

These outputs will directly benefit farmers in the UK, providing indicators of soil health status and guide the transition to more sustainable and restorative agriculture.

Dr Tim Mauchline, Plant and Soil Microbiologist at Rothamsted Research, said, “Soil health testing laboratories have the appetite to use these signatures to provide more detailed analysis to guide farmers decision making. This will enable the provision of specific practical advice to farmers to improve their resilience, to increase soil carbon, increase biodiversity and water retention and potentially with additional revenue streams.”

In the UK, roughly 84% of fertile topsoil has been lost since 1850 due to highly mechanised farming systems causing compaction, erosion, and sub optimal plantings. Soil microbiomes drive critical functions in agro- ecosystems, including soil fertility, crop productivity and stress tolerance.

Soil degradation was calculated to cost £1.2bn a year in 2010. System-level agricultural management practices can induce structural alterations, thereby changing the microbial processes at the micro-scale.

These changes have large-scale consequences, such as soil erosion, reduced soil fertility and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the major soil health indicators are categorised into three groups: physical, chemical, and biological.

Professor Martin Broadley, Science Director, Sustainable Soils and Crops at Rothamsted highlights, “Rothamsted Research is delighted to be partnering with Eagle Genomics and CABI, to support this exciting project to develop practical indicators of soil health status. Applying recent advances in our understanding of soil biology, to enable the development of ‘next generation’ soil tests, will help farmers and the wider agriculture sector in delivering profitable and healthy agricultural systems.”

The important work, as part of this collaboration, will significantly advance soil microbiology as an important component of the soil health continuum and enable practical strategies for farmers to conserve and regenerate their soils.

Dr Matt Ryan, Research Lead, Biological Resources at CABI, said, “These valuable crop microbial samples are a vital resource for scientific researchers investigating how to ensure food security amid a range of challenges to crop production that also includes the threats posed by pests and diseases.

“Advancing research on solutions to mitigate these stressors is also imperative to help ensure the UK’s food security at a time when chemical fertilisers and pesticides are in the spotlight amid the growing concerns of climate change.”


Support a practical, investable and inclusive narrative for land use.

Sign-up to receive our newsletter

Newsletter Signup
Contribute for just £2.50 per week
Skip to content