Soil Science at NIAB EMR

The ‘ecosystem services’ provided by soil and growing media such as nutrient cycling, water provision/retention and organic matter decomposition are essential for food production.

The majority of these processes are performed by microorganisms and a well-structured, fertile soil containing diverse communities of microorganisms and animals enables optimum root development resulting in good yields of quality produce.

Declining soil organic matter content, erosion and compaction arising from some intensive crop production practices may reduce soil quality, impair root performance and limit crop yields.

Peat and soil are non-renewable resources within human lifespans, the continued use of peat in horticulture is now considered to be unsustainable and its use in England is to be phased out by 2030.

New approaches to the management of soils and peat-free growing media, based on a greater understanding of the underlying biological processes, are therefore required to increase the resilience and sustainability of food production.

Research into soil and growing media at NIAB EMR underpins practical solutions enabling the horticultural industry to meet the current challenges of improving food security, adapting to climate change and using peat-free growing media.

NIAB EMR is internationally famous for its work on rootstocks and plant-soil/substrate-microbial interactions for apples and strawberries grown in soil and substrates are a key area of interest.  Other areas of interest include soil organic matter in perennial agro-ecosystems, the ecology of soil-borne plant pathogens and the belowground impacts of severe weather events and other environmental stresses.

For more information about NIAB EMR’s soil science interests, please contact Flora O’Brien via

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