How do we find a metric for soil health? Is it possible to find one metric to represent the health of our soils? This was the topic of discussion at one of the sessions I attended at a Business in the Community event in October. The event was about food sustainability so it was great to see soil high on the agenda. Hurray for soils!

Attendees of the session included people from a range of backgrounds; academics, farmers and businesses. What was really interesting was how the discussions highlighted how our backgrounds influenced what aspects of soil, or soil metrics, we considered important. We talked a lot about the complexity of the soil system, which is exactly what the soil value project is all about. Within the project we’ll be using models to represent soil nutrient cycling, soil hydrology, and soil erosion. What makes soil so complex is that these components all influence one another, so you can’t consider one on its own. Because of this, it’s not really possible for a single metric to represent soil health.

We also talked about knowledge gaps and data availability, another topic that struck a chord with me given our recent data gathering exercise for model calibration. It was interesting, and perhaps unsurprising to hear that a lot of soil data is collected routinely by farmers yet sadly this data isn’t always available. We discussed the idea of a national monitoring and database scheme, and how to incentivise data sharing. The problems associated with finding data is something we’ve been discussing with the Ensemble project team in Lancaster University’s Data Science Institute. A future event that BITC are hosting is looking at optimising the use of data, so hopefully we can continue these kind of discussions there. Watch this space!