Soil Squad investigates fungal communities

A new exciting, farmer-led project aims to measure the level of mycorrhizal fungi in UK arable soils.

Just how much do you know about the fungal community in the soil below your crops? A new farmer-led project, co-ordinated by BOFIN (British On Farm Innovation Network) aims to find out.

BOFIN is working with the Crop Science Centre, Cambridge, to study arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in arable soils. The aim of the project is to get a more accurate idea of the level of AMF across a range of soil types and cultivation approaches.

“We know that AMF plays a crucial role both in transferring nutrients from the soil to the crop and in sequestering carbon,” says Dr Tom Thirkell of CSC who leads the project.

Tom Thirkell

“What we don’t know is the actual amount of this fascinating fungi we have in arable soils, how this varies and how it’s influenced by management practice.”

Farmers interested in being involved in the project should fill out this form or contact .

“We plan to take plant samples with roots intact from around 30 first wheat crops in May or June this year,” Tom explains.

“There’s a standard test we can apply in the lab to the roots that gives a very accurate idea of how much those plants have been interacting with AMF. We’re hoping to deliver the results at the Groundswell event in June.”

Those who register for the webinar will join BOFIN’s Soil Circle, a group of farmers and scientists keen to know more about soil fungal communities. Farmers in the group interested in taking part in the survey will be asked to give details of their soil type and cultivation system when they register for the webinar.

BOFIN will then invite from the Soil Circle members who will become the Soil Squad – those who will have their plant roots analysed for AMF activity. BOFIN and CSC will then work with the Soil Squad to ensure the samples are taken correctly and give an accurate picture of the AMF levels for each of the samples contributed.

“This is the first time UK arable soils have been benchmarked in this way, and I’m really excited about what we’ll find,” enthuses Tom.

“We already have the six Green Farm Collective farmers signed up to the Soil Squad as well as Paul Cherry, host of Groundswell. I’m looking forward to working with many more farmers within the Soil Circle, and I hope we’ll get a real spread of farming systems and cultivation approaches involved.”

Anyone can join BOFIN’s Soil Circle by simply registering for the webinar – it’s free and there’s no obligation. Farmers who join can choose whether they wish to apply to be part of the Soil Squad, which will require them to provide brief details of soil type, cultivation system and wheat variety.

Simon Cowell

They will also agree to provide a sample of their first wheat crop later in the season. Those involved in the project can choose to keep all data gathered anonymous.

Tim Parton

At the webinar on Thursday 16 February at 8:30am, Tom will share his deep insight into the science behind AMF and explain a little more about the project.

He’ll be followed by Essex farmer and co-founder of the Green Farm Collective Simon Cowell. He’s been improving the soils on his low-lying coastal farm for the past twenty years and will share his experiences and results of some of the AMF monitoring work he’s been doing.

Fellow GFC co-founder Tim Parton, who farms in Staffordshire will join the discussion. Tim is passionate about building ‘functioning’ soil, applying ‘brewed’ biology instead of synthetic inputs.