Anglian Water is working with farmers from across the region to identify and support healthy soils for the benefit of future cropping, the environment and protection of drinking water sources.
Early in 2019, Anglian Water took 324 soil samples from 143 individual holdings across 10 drinking water protected areas around the region. The samples were then analysed by Yara Analytical Services.
Covering a range of parameters including soil type, pH, macro/micro nutrients as well as soil respiration, carbon to nitrogen ratio and organic matter, the labs were able to give each field a soil assessment score and recommendations to enhance its health.
Soil health is promoted as being key to future agricultural policy, alongside the development of new measures of success for agriculture. Most farmers think of a healthy soil as one which allows earlier and easier cultivations plus unrestricted root movement –ultimately a soil which produces healthy crops.
Jonathan Telfer, Development Manager at Yara, said: “No-one has undertaken such a detailed and comprehensive catchment scale look as Anglian Water has and neither has the data been compared in this way.
“With over 2,500 soil tests now performed by Yara, when you compare UK averages with the rest of the world, the UK does have very fertile soils – a result of good climate and good farming practice.”
As a water company, however, Anglian think of healthy soil in relation to its ability to retain water and its aerobic environment for bacteria to thrive in (helping to release nutrients for crops and break down pesticides). This in turn reduces the potential risk of pesticide loses to the environment and water sources.
Through stringent analysis at Yara, farmers involved in the data collection were able to see how their soils were responding and if any new approaches were having an effect.
Gary Hodgetts, Catchment Advisor at Anglian Water, said: “With this strategy we can focus on supporting farmers within our drinking water catchments providing them with local initiatives to aid both food production and water resource protection, ultimately a positive for our customers and the environment.”
Anglian Water used anonymised results to look for trends across the region, helping formulate catchment specific baselines to support long-term soil health strategy. Comparing catchment data sets uncovers trends which could be addressed, providing benefits to future crops and the environment.
Gary added: “Understanding what is achievable at a local level provides farmers with more realistic targets, and the ability to find local solutions to local problems and allows us to provide more relevant advice and support to those in the farming community. Identifying which nutrients are needed where and at what time, helps to plan correct land management and subsequently build healthy, robust soils. “