Independent 'living' guide launched to help farmers improve soil health and help combat flooding

An independent online soil guide has been launched in Yorkshire that aims to become the world’s most comprehensive support resource for farmers to improve soil health.

Matt Parkin said the Good Soil Guide will be a useful tool in improving soil health

The Good Soil Guide, an online encyclopaedia specifically designed for use in the field, is a collaboration between Yorkshire Water, Yorkshire supply chain consultancy Future Food Solutions and expert soil scientist Neil Fuller.

The huge database is free to use and has no links to agribusiness, meaning all the information and advice is unbiased.

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The guide contains extensive information, empirical data and advice on how to improve soil health, increase soil organic matter, diagnose and treat problems with soil and crops and help farmers to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Fuller said the resource had been created to help farmers get the best out of their most valuable asset – soil – adding that it was a holistic guide, looking at all aspects of soil health and specifically designed for use in the field.

He said: “The Good Soil Guide is full of soil data derived from cover crop trials, different tillage methods, practical experience and much more.

“By using it, farmers can compare soil samples from their fields with pictures in the guide and diagnose issues such as a lack of nutrients or depleted soil organic matter. They can then use the contents of the guide to put that right.

“It is not written in an academic or scientific style. The information is presented simply and clearly and in a mobile-friendly format so farmers and agronomists can access it whenever and wherever they need it.”

The Good Soil Guide is live, which allows farmers, agronomists and other industry professionals around the world to share their knowledge by adding to the resource.

Matt Parkin, who farms at Bilton-in-Ainsty, near Wetherby, North Yorkshire, is taking part in trials to improve the establishment of cover crops for soil health.

He said soil management was becoming “steadily more important to an integrated farming approach”.

“I am currently participating in some interesting cover crop trials as a dedicated soil tool. The Good Soil Guide can only help with this.”

The idea for the guide came about when Yorkshire Water catchment strategy manager Andrew Walker met Neil Fuller at an event held by Future Food Solutions.

Mr Walker helped initiate a project in 2014 that brought together landowners and stakeholders in the English uplands to find better environmental outcomes for blanket bog land and was keen to try a similar approach in the lowlands.

“We wanted to take this model and apply it to the lowlands to solve issues around sediment, nutrients and pesticides leaching into the watercourses and having a detrimental effect on water quality.

“We knew that working with farmers to address this would bring them huge benefits in terms of keeping soil and expensive fertilisers and pesticides where they should be – in the field.

“For us, it was a case of improving water quality and, essentially, The Good Soil Guide focuses on improving soil health and increasing soil organic matter.

“Doing this gives the soil a more robust structure, meaning far less is lost to sediment. Nutrients and pesticides are held on the field and, as the soil can absorb more water, incidents of flooding are hugely reduced.”