The first two major projects from the White Rose Sustainable Agriculture Consortium were launched last Friday at Wetherby. The Consortium is a fairly loose collection of people mostly from the Universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield, along with colleagues from FERA and Manchester, all interested in sustainable agriculture with a focus on soils research at farm level. We run the field-scale experiments at the University of Leeds farm near Tadcaster. Both projects address the question of how to enhance the resilience of modern arable agriculture to the increased variability of weather. Our proposed answer is to enhance the functioning of soil in our fields, to reverse some of the degradation we have seen over the last decades of intensive cropping and to make it more like the less disturbed soils to be found in hedgerows. Both projects focus on boosting the role of mycorrhizae, soil fungi that form associations with plants, taking carbon from them but providing nutrients and, it seems, increased resistance to diseases and pests.
Les Firbank is an agro-ecologist based at the University of Leeds