Cutting-edge UK agri-tech tools are coming together with research and development expertise to help farmers discover more about the role roots play in maintaining healthy soils.

Soil degradation currently costs England and Wales £1.2Bn every year, but few tools have been developed to measure soil and root health and how they interact.

TRUTH project

The TRUTH (Thriving Roots Underpinning Total soil Heath) project is a three-year, £1M Defra-funded project that will bring together experts in soil and root health, sensor technology and wheat genetics.

They’ll work alongside growers who conduct trials on their own farms with the goal of identifying the tools they require to assess crop roots and quantify the impact of their farming system. A key part of this will be developing a novel sensor, developed by PES Technologies, capable of ‘smelling’ a soil’s biological signature.

“Improving the resilience of soil is key to maintaining UK food security, improving farm productivity and mitigating climate change,” says Tom Allen-Stevens from BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network).

“Healthy soils play an important role in food production, climate change mitigation, and maintaining biodiversity. However, what goes unrecognised is the role of the roots that weave their way through them, drawing nutrients, transferring carbon, providing life to the complex microbiome that lies unseen beneath our feet.

“There are many desirable traits that rely on the interactions between crop and soil, such as drought tolerance, performance in marginal situations, nitrate modulation, and soil carbon sequestration. Through TRUTH, we’ll have a better understanding of the interactions that would enable breeders to identify the genes responsible. These can then be brought into breeding lines and help identify bioproducts that consistently enhance performance,” he explains.

TRUTH is funded by the Farming Futures R&D fund, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. Defra is working in partnership with Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, who are delivering the programme.

Two deliverables

The three-year, £1M project will deliver two key innovations – building on work already carried out by PES Technologies to develop its innovative soil health sensor, and, working with scientists at University of Nottingham and John Innes Centre to create the ‘Root Rangers Platform’.

“The project outcomes will deliver farmers the tools they require to assess their crop roots and quantify the impact of their farming system on soil health,” says Tom.

“Support and inspiration will be delivered through a farmer-led community in which knowledge has true value. Accordingly, this brand-new platform will empower farmers to quantify the effect on productivity of new genetics and bioproducts.”

TRUTH will be led by BOFIN alongside PES Technologies, CHAP Agri-Tech Centre, John Innes Centre and University of Nottingham.