Now that the Soil Fungal Communities project has concluded, find out what is in store for our Soil Squad next.
What’s next for the Soil Squad?
Following on from the success of this project, BOFIN is leading a brand-new three-year project that starts in January 2024. Thriving Roots Underpinning Total soil Health (TRUTH) aims to set up a new farmer-led platform to quantify and evaluate soil/root interactions and validate a novel sensor that can ‘smell’ a soil’s biological signature.
TRUTH addresses the current lack of reliable tools available to farmers to monitor, quantify, and improve either soil health or root development. This makes it challenging to understand how interventions may affect crop yield and quality.
There are two key outcomes the project will be aiming to deliver:
A soil health sensor which provides in-field measurement of microbial diversity and fungal:bacterial ratio.
A platform comprising on-farm soil/root health testing tools and a knowledge exchange community farmers can use to inform sustainable soil management (SSM) practices and test productivity improvements of novel genetics and bioproducts.
It will be the Soil Squad who will deliver the platform. BOFIN will be looking to work with up to 30 Root Rangers to develop it over the course of the project, with the help of the other project partners. The Soil Circle will be the community we establish, involving scientists, project partners and others with an interest or experience in soils. This will be the forum through which to trade knowledge and experience on SSM, and specifically the tools we will be developing within the project. It will be hosted in the Knowledge in Farming section of The Farming Forum.
The TRUTH project partners
The British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN)
Leading on farmer engagement, development of Soil Circle, on-farm trials, including Agronomic analysis of trial data through ADAS (contractor) and dissemination. Also breeder advice and steer through KWS UK and RAGT Seeds (contractors).
They have pioneered the sensor technology which will be developed further along with providing information on soil health to farmers.
Crop Health & Protection (CHAP)
Leading on project management and contributing to stakeholder engagement, as well as providing data on soil fungal communities through Crop Science Centre (contractor).
John Innes Centre
Leading the microbiome analysis, supporting farmer training and on-farm trials, seed multiplication and access to novel/unusual rooting traits.
University of Nottingham
Leading on plant-soil interactions, root/soil assessment and development of Root Ranger skills.
The trial is part of SLIMERS, a £2.6M Defra-funded project to develop new management strategies to help farmers achieve more sustainable slug control in arable crops.
The new work will run in-parallel with another component of the project which analyses the distribution of slugs in arable fields. This information will help the team to develop more sustainable approaches to the use of pellets by targeting only the patches where the pest gathers.
Farmers are already successfully delivering the field experiments for this investigation and the SLIMERS project is now seeking similar support to investigate slug control using the application of biological agents (nematodes) with an autonomous robot.
“We developed the concept of autonomous slug control through the SlugBot project, funded by Innovate UK,” explains Technical Lead for SLIMERS Dr Jenna Ross, OBE, of Agri-Tech Centre CHAP.
“This work enabled robots to identify slugs and then spot-treat them with advanced alternative biological control methods.
“These new trials will put that proof of concept to the test in real field situations. But we need farmers to use their skill and judgement to train the robot AI.”
Special rigs, equipped with the latest camera technology, have been designed and are currently being built by SLIMERS project partner The Small Robot Co (SRC).
Farmers will use these to mimic a robot moving through the field and direct the rig to the patches where slugs gather to devour the crop.
Thousands of multi-spectral images of slug infestation will be gathered and fed into the machine-learning algorithms that will soon be used to find slugs and treat them without any human intervention, notes Ray King, Lead Mechanical Engineer at SRC.
“Robots learn as they go. The more images we gather, the better they will be at identifying this important pest.”
At the webinar on 10 January, Ray will give an insight into the world-leading technology SRC has developed to identify pests and pathogens in arable fields, and explain how the trial will work.
Dr Kerry McDonald-Howard who has recently joined CHAP, will share some of her expertise on Phasmarhabditis species – parasitic nematodes that feeds on slugs.
“It’s a highly effective natural predator you can spot spray at a low cost to an area where a slug is found,” she notes.
The farmer ‘Slug Sleuths’ recruited to use the rigs to train the AI will be paid to carry out the work and gather the data by the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN).
“Farmers who know their fields know where slugs gather and where the damage is greatest,” notes BOFIN Founder and Managing Director Tom Allen-Stevens.
“The work on patch treatment of slugs previously funded at Harper Adams University by AHDB and now being developed under SLIMERS has refined this by proving that other slug patches also occur in all fields.
“Targeting all these areas with slug pellets results in commercially viable and environmentally sustainable control. In practice these patches also offer the target areas for the robot to operate in, reducing the area they need to search.
“At the webinar we’ll explain how farmers will be paid to help transfer this knowledge to the robot AI.”
Farmers encouraged to come forward would be those planning to establish a spring cereal in a slug-infested field with a keen understanding of the pest and a determination to harness new technology to control them.
To sign up to the free webinar go to www.slimers.co.uk. You can also be involved in SLIMERS by joining the 160+ volunteer Slug Scouts.
These farmers and gardeners have been sending in slugs to the CHAP laboratory at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire to help further train the AI’s slug recognition and identify crop damage caused by the slimy pest.
£2.6M Defra-funded project launched to revolutionise slug control
A new £2.6M project has been launched which seeks to provide arable farmers with precision slug control solutions. Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6M research project involving over 100 UK farms and six industry partners, funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and delivered by Innovate UK.
The consortium of UK companies, research institutes and farmer networks, led by the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), intends to provide two specific services to control slugs more sustainably.
“Since the ban on metaldehyde, there is now only one form of chemical control for slugs – ferric phosphate pellets – so protecting the longevity of this will require both a strategic and precision approach to slug management,” says project lead and BOFIN founder, Tom Allen-Stevens.
“Slugs are arable farming’s biggest pest issue which is estimated to cost the UK industry about £43.5M per year. Developing solutions to tackle these pests sustainably could be a game-changer for the entire industry and wider supply chain.”
The aims are to reduce reliance on slug pellet usage through precision application of treatments to slug hotspots and advance alternative biological control, both via an economically viable approach.
Dr Jenna Ross OBE from UK Agri-Tech Innovation Centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) is the project’s technical lead. “I travelled the world in 2018 as a Nuffield Farming scholar and noticed a gap in the market for improved slug control.
“Farmers urgently need alternative control measures that are effective, sustainable, environmentally and societally acceptable, and economically viable. This industrial focused research project utilises the consortium’s unique expertise and capabilities to develop cost-effective digital autonomous slug monitoring, forecasting and precision treatment tools, thus delivering on-farm game-changing solutions to benefit farmers.”
The first stage of the project will be the recruitment of 30 ‘Slug Sleuths’ – a group of farmers determined to overcome their slug burdens – who will be selected and paid to host trials on their own farm. These farmers will test the developing technology and novel patch location forecasting to help researchers learn more about slug behaviour in a bid to create a long-term solution.
Next, the robots will move in, bringing infield cutting-edge slug identification and spot-treatment technology, building on the SlugBot project which was carried out by Small Robot Company and Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), funded by Innovate UK. The Slug Sleuths will work side-by-side with the autonomous bots to improve the AI models and advance pellet-free biological solutions.
While this technology will be tested infield by farmers, it will be supported and refined in laboratories, guided by leading scientists, and will include slug patch location forecasting and autonomous solutions for precision control.
How to get involved
Keen to expand the knowledge exchange beyond the core group of farmers, the project is also launching the Slug Circle – a platform and knowledge exchange hub designed to facilitate discussion, idea sharing and tips for best practice when it comes to slug burdens and controlling them.
The project team are urging farmers interested in being involved – or those who simply interested in alternative, precision techniques for control – to sign up now.
The project was officially launched to the industry on Wednesday 28 June at 1:00pm on the Small Robot Company stand (DF E27) at this year’s Groundswell event, with a follow up webinar to explain more about it and what’s on offer for farmers who wish to take part on 15 August at 8:30am. To register your interest in the Slug Circle Community, with no obligation click here.
More information about the project, including links to project partners and research initiatives that underpin the project can be found at slimers.co.uk
Notes to editors:
– Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6M research programme involving more than 100 UK farms and six partners.
– The project aims are to develop two commercial services from current proof-of-concept technologies: patch prediction and precision mapping, and autonomous slug treatment using nematodes.
– The project is steered by science, guided by robots and proven by real farm enterprises, with the potential to make a significant difference to slug control strategies, with slug damage currently estimated to cost £43.5M a year.
– BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network) leads the consortium – alongside technical lead, CHAP – that includes Harper Adams University, John Innes Centre, Agrivation and Small Robot Company.
– SLIMERS is funded by the Small R&D Partnership Projects, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. Defra are working in partnership with Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, who are delivering the programme. Project number: 10053286
– Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. It connects businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth. More information about Innovate UK can be found at: ukri.org
– Farmers are encouraged to join the Slug Circle community, a platform and knowledge exchange hub. For more, visit bofin.org.uk/slimers
– A selection of high-resolution pictures, including photos of key project representatives, general shots of slugs and logos can be found here.
£5.9M Defra-funded pulse project launched to cut farm emissions
A new industry-leading project has been launched to help farmers reduce agricultural emissions by 1.5Mt CO₂e a year. ‘Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems’ (NCS) is a four-year £5.9M ambitious research project involving 200 UK farms and 17 industry partners. Funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, and delivered by Innovate UK, the project is one of the ‘cutting-edge’ farming projects receiving a share of £30M of government funding, announced on Wednesday (31 May). The consortium of UK companies, research institutes and farmer networks, led by PGRO, aims to bring about a reduction of 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum or 54% of the maximum potential for UK Agriculture.
Project aims The bold, twin aims of the project are firstly to increase pulse cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK (currently 5%), and also to develop and test new feed rations. This will help livestock farmers with the project’s second aim, to substitute up to 50% of imported soya meal used in feed with more climate-friendly home-grown pulses and legumes. These ambitions will be steered by science, but proven by farmers, through a series of paid-for on-farm trials. “Everyone knows that pulses and legumes have considerable benefits for UK farming systems,” says PGRO Chief Executive, Roger Vickers, who leads the NCS consortium. “But these have never been truly and accurately measured. So their value has been sorely underplayed and their potential to address the climate crisis has gone unrecognised. “Together we can change that. We now have the science, the tools and the know-how among UK farmers, not only to tap into that potential, but to develop it further. Bringing that talent together is what lies at the heart of NCS – it’s never been done before, and there’s never been a project on this scale with this much ambition.”
Pulse Pioneers The first stage of the project will give 200 UK farmers direct support to establish their business’ carbon baseline, using the Farm Carbon Toolkit. The GHG emissions from these farms will then be tracked throughout the project and will form a fundamental part of the dataset. The leading innovators among them will then be paid to work with scientists to co-design crop and feeding trials to carry out on their farms. These ‘Pulse Pioneers’ will explore ways and means for soils to thrive, crop yields to build and livestock productivity to flourish, through better use and marketing of home-grown pulses and legumes. The on-farm progress will be based on cutting-edge technologies and farming systems, incorporating some of the latest research and innovations from leading UK institutes and tech companies. These will be underpinned by a rigorous use of data, including the UK’s first ever full lifecycle analysis of cropping rotations and livestock systems.
How to get involved Keen to expand the knowledge exchange beyond this core group of farmers, the project is also launching the PulsePEP (Performance Enhancing Platform), led by ADAS. This will be a hub for the farmer-led community striving to achieve the best from pulse crops and reduce carbon emissions, as well as a place for discussion on best-practice pulse cropping. The project team are urging farmers interested in being involved – or those who just have a passion for pulses – to sign up now.
“This will be the defining project of our time,” believes Mr Vickers. “It’s not just the chance for UK Agriculture to make a seismic shift towards Net Zero, but it’ll also deliver a prosperous and resilient way of farming for communities worldwide.
“We want farmers to join us and be part of this exciting journey of discovery. You will shape it. Your knowledge and experience will enrich the science we’re bringing together. You will inspire others and accelerate the pace of change. And together we’ll achieve a farming future that is richly rewarding and immensely gratifying.”
The project will be officially launched on the PGRO stand at this year’s Cereals Event (13-14 June), with a follow up webinar to explain more about it and what’s on offer for farmers who wish to take part on Thursday15 June at 2:00pm. To register your interest in PulsePEP, with no obligation click here.
More information about the project, including links to project partners and research initiatives that underpin the project can be found at ncsproject.co.uk
The figures – explained The annual reduction in CO₂ equivalent emissions can be achieved through: Increasing pulse and legume cropping areas to the rotational optimum of 20% (1M ha) across UK farms. This would reduce nitrogen fertiliser use by 233,000t, resulting in 0.55M tonnes CO₂e reduction. Using the subsequent produce in animal feed, replacing 50% of imported soya meal and delivering a further 0.7M tonnes CO₂e reduction.
The residual nitrogen benefit to following crops through soil enrichment, leading to an additional 0.25M tonnes CO₂e reduction.
Notes to editors:
– Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems (NCS) is a four-year £5.9M research programme involving 200 UK farms and 17 partners. – The project aims to bring about a reduction of 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum or 54% of the maximum potential for UK agriculture through increasing pulse and legume cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK and replacing 50% of imported soya meal used in livestock feed rations with home-grown pulses and legumes. – The project is steered by science and proven by real farm enterprises, with significant benefits for both crop and livestock productivity, including cost savings of over £1bn/yr. – PGRO (Processors and Growers Research Organisation) leads the consortium that includes AB Agri, ADAS, Agrii, BOFIN(British On-Farm Innovation Network), Cranfield University, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Firstmilk, GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), The James Hutton Institute, Kelvin Cave, LC Beef Nutrition, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), McArthur Agriculture, PBL Technology, SRUC and Wessex Water.
– The NCS Project is funded by the Farming Futures R&D Fund: Climate smart farming, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. Defra are working in partnership with Innovate UK who are delivering the programme. Project number: 10043778 – The project is one of more than 50 cutting-edge farming projects receiving a share of £30M, announced by Defra on Wednesday, 31 May. See the Defra announcement here and details of the winning projects on the Innovate UK website here. – Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. It supports business-led innovation in all sectors, technologies and UK regions, helping businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services. ukri.org – Farmers are encouraged to join the PulsePEP community, a platform and knowledge exchange hub. For more, visit ncsproject.co.uk – A selection of high-resolution pictures, including photos of key project representatives, general shots of pulse and legume crops and logos can be found here.
LOCATION: The Oak Tree building within the Warwick Complex
TIME: 11:30 – 3:00PM
If you are involved with either of these projects and planning on attending then please get in touch with email@example.com to let us know. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible.
Slug Sleuth duties are underway!
We are excited to announce that all farmers that have signed up to be Slug Sleuths as part of the SLIMERS project are busy having their trial sites monitored and set up with traps! We are also in the process of setting them up on the Husk Data app which is being used to record, monitor and store all data as part of the project trials. Click here to take a look at the Husk Data website. The app is:
01. Fast & Agile
We are being asked to farm more efficiently and to do that we need to record what we have done. Data can be boring to capture but it needs to be done at the time or it is never available again!
02. Accurate & Paperless
On farm we need to know what we have done, what we have, and where it is; where the bales are and how many of them, what grain has been moved and from where. We have created a simple system that can replace all data that is currently captured with handwritten forms (and lots of data that is not captured at all) and collect it in one place.
03. Real-Time Data Capture
Data capture is an increasingly vital element in determining a farms efficiency, and in the future it will be essential for accessing Carbon reduction payments and proving environmental work.
New Agtech magazine seeks Farmer Focus writers
Do you have a flair for writing and would you like to share your views on innovation with like-minded farmers?
We’re looking for BOFIN farmer members who would like to write a one-off or regular column as Farmer Focus writers for a brand-new magazine that will be published alongside Direct Driller.
AgTech Farmer will bring quality editorial and in-depth analysis to the world of agritech innovations. But more than anything it’s about the farmers pioneering the farming systems of the future who are leading the Fourth Agricultural Revolution.
We’re particularly keen for Farmer Focus writers with experience of robots, automation or AI, who have helped develop new ways with drones or shaped tech gadgetry to solve an on-farm issue. Or perhaps you have a vision of the future – you can place yourself in 2030 and write about the farming system, the politics and the marketplace you will face.
BOFIN members farm at the coalface of innovation – no other farmers have knowledge of such value, nor can offer insight with more credibility. If you can put this into words, this is the chance to put yourself at the leading edge of farming’s journey to a new frontier, to define how it shapes up and whom it rewards. Anyone interested should contact firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 September.
Stakeholder Coexistence Dialogue On Precision-Bred Organisms
Thank you to all of those who took part earlier this year in our survey to gather your views on precision-bred organisms (PBOs) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Charlotte and I pulled your views together and presented them to Defra and also handed in a report. We understand they found this very useful.
BOFIN members have now been invited by Defra to take part in a stakeholder dialogue to gather views on coexistence of PBOs and organic agriculture, and to work towards establishing a non-legislative coexistence code of practice.
Participants will be invited to an online workshop and will be given the opportunity to express views on current coexistence measures and how these could be adopted for PBOs with other industry representatives.
Participating BOFIN members would play an active role in developing a coexistence code of practice. Defra views this as key for the widescale adoption of PBOs. Depending on interest, the number of BOFIN members invited to participate may be limited.
If you are interested in taking part, please let me know by email at email@example.com by Friday 28 July. Those who take part will be agreeing for BOFIN to pass their contact details to Defra.
Cereals Event 13th-14th June
We had a great time at the Cereals event 2023 engaging with lots of people interested in joining BOFIN and learning all about the projects that we are involved in. Whilst at Cereals, we launched the NCS Project on the PGRO stand and had many eager sign-ups for the PulsePEP which you can join here! Click here to watch our video of our Cereals 2023 highlights.
Royal Highland Show 22nd-23rd June
At the Royal Highland Show, we introduced BOFIN along with the projects we are involved with to our Scottish friends! Many of you showed great interest and signed-up to various projects. It was great to meet lots of new engaged farmers interested in on-farm trials.
Western Arable Grain Store Show 24th June
At the Grain Store Show we managed to engage with many local farmers interested in peas, beans and on-farm trials! BOFIN enjoyed the farm tour and soil pit displayed, along with the existing trial fields on the farm. Lots of you showed good interest in BOFIN and we look forward to inviting to our knowledge circles within each of our projects!
Groundswell Event 28th-29th June
We enjoyed Groundswell 2023, with all of their great exhibitors and delicious food stands! On day 1, the Small Robot Company stand hosted the launch of SLIMERS where many of you came along for nibbles and drinks to learn how to get involved with this project aiming to tackle arable farmings’ biggest pest! Day 2 was all about results. A presentation was delivered by Tom Allen-Stevens and Tom Thirkell on the preliminary results of the Soil Fungal Communities Project. It was great to see so many existing members, along with many new faces!
BOFIN would like to welcome Charlotte Cunningham and Skye Melita to the team!
Charlotte is our senior project manager. She is an award-winning freelance journalist and communications consultant, with expertise in the agriculture sector. Specifically, this includes knowledge on and experience in the fields of technical livestock and arable production She has a passion for telling the real stories of those on the ground, driving farming forward.
“Working with BOFIN creates a new opportunity to tell the stories of the latest, cutting-edge, farmer-led research and those on the ground driving the industry forward” says Charlotte.
Skye is our community manager. She has a MSc in Psychology and a background in website building, media and effective marketing. Skye is accomplished, enthusiastic and prolific on social media. Key skills include involving and engaging groups in the most effective way for company aims and objectives. Although new to the world of agriculture, she is keen to bring a fresh perspective.
We have many exciting days here at BOFIN and we want our members to feel as included with our projects, events and daily findings as possible. Therefore, we have started our very own YouTube channel. We will be posting different topics each week and will have very special guests joining us along the way. Follow our YouTube journey by subscribing to our channel!