Fera is currently analysing the biology of soil samples from 150 farms across the UK as part of its Big Soil Community.
Launched in June, unlike traditional soil testing, which mainly focuses on the physical and chemical properties of soil, the Fera analysis deals with soil biology, through a DNA sequencing approach, explains its strategic business development manager, Guy Thallon.
“The principle is to look at soil [biology] diversity as a measure of soil health. A more diverse community is a healthier community. As the science develops and as we run tests in concurrent years we can develop baseline measures.”
Many microbial species in soils are currently unknown, however, they can be identified using their genetic ‘bar code’ and such information, when combined with that on farming systems using ‘Big Data’ techniques, could in future be used to identify factors influencing soil biology. “We expect to see different components of the biological community prospering or being hindered by different conditions.
“Biology is a core component of soil health but at this time there is very little understanding of how to assess, interpret and manipulate it,” says Mr Thallon.
The soil analysis costs £250 and participating farmers receive information about the microbial diversity of their soil as well as tools to benchmark their results against the wider Big Soil Community, providing insight into the impact of soil management, crop rotations and farm system dynamics.
Growers are now being invited to register their interest for The Big Soil Community sampling programme for 2019. For more information visit: