Fera’s Big Soil Community, launched at last year’s Cereals event, has now released the first set of results to participants after successfully completing its opening year.
The programme, which was launched to better understand the role of soil microbial diversity in agricultural production systems by providing the first commercial benchmark of soil microbial biodiversity across multiple farming systems, tested 228 samples of soil in total.
Guy Thallon, business development manager at Fera says: “Soil samples were sent by participants to Fera and analysed using next generation sequencing techniques. DNA was extracted from the samples and sequenced to look at bacterial and fungal communities at various taxonomic levels, including relative abundances, community structures and presence or absence of target organisms”
Participants also completed a farm systems survey which provided data on soil type, cultivation and rotation and other system descriptors.
This allows all data from different systems to be contextualised to see what different proportions of positive or negative abundancy trends might appear as a result.
Sampling activity and analysis was coordinated in the autumn to get comparable results and the lowest analysis cost per sample for the farmer, at £250 according to Mr Thallon.
He says: “We are conscious there is a large amount of information we have provided in the reports.
"We want to make those results valuable to the end user so the main focus in this first instance has been looking at how diverse our populations of bacteria and fungi are and the potential to use this measure as a proxy for soil health – the hypothesis being that a more diverse ratio is a positive thing.
“We have then identified proportions of beneficial bacteria and fungi and portions of detrimental bacteria and fungi, including plant pathogens.”
The next step is engaging with the growing community going forward using Twitter Q&A sessions, webinars and workshops, says Mr Thallon.
“It is called the Big Soil Community because we’re looking at soil biological communities, but we are also building a community of farmers, growers and scientists that are committed to developing this database and recognising that over time were going to learn more and more about what these complex but critical biological populations are doing,” he says.
Growers that wish to join the Big Soil Community can visit: fera.co.uk/big-soil-community.