Saturday, 25 June 2016

SoilCare - our European collaboration continues

The UK electorate has voted, by a small margin, for a massive change in the relationship we have with our European neighbours, and in the way our own country will operate in future.  But some things are bigger, even than the European political stage.  Without healthy soils, we will fail to support society at national or international scales, whatever its form of governance.  Despite the results of last week's referendum, we can, thankfully, continue to collaborate with European partners on research into the maintenance of healthy soils through the EU funded project, 'SoilCare'.

Irrigated maize field at Coimbra, Portugal
 The Allerton Project is one of 16 research and demonstration sites across Europe which will be developing management practices that improve the immediate profitability of farm businesses, while also ensuring the underlying environmental sustainability that is essential to maintain that into the future. As is being increasingly widely appreciated, we need to consider the needs of future generations, as well as our own.  I was fortunate to be able to visit the Portuguese partner, Escola Superior Agraria at Coimbra earlier in the month and to learn about the challenges and opportunities there.

The research agenda for the next four years will be set, not just by the researchers involved, but by a network of local stakeholders around each of the study sites. Like our colleagues at Coimbra, we have been meeting with local people over the past two weeks to capture their concerns and priorities for research.  Project partner, Professor Mark Reed joined me from Newcastle University for the first of these meetings with members of the Welland Valley Partnership's Resource Protection Group, and I met subsequently with members of the Welland Arable Business Group and participating farmers in the Water Friendly Farming project.

Welland Valley Partnership members discuss the options
Together, these groups have strong farmer representation, ensuring that our objectives are practically grounded and relevant to farm businesses.  But we have also captured the views of others with an interest in the soil because of its role in controlling water flow, influencing water quality, and sequestering carbon. We look forward to comparing the outcomes of these meetings with those from other partner countries, identifying differences and similarities, and perhaps developing new ways of thinking about this international issue ... together.


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