Soil Symposium


Many of our sessions will include practical case studies with farmers and growers sharing experiences. Our current speakers include:

Robert Burtonshaw - Nuffield Scholar and Director, Farm Services Ltd

Helen Browning OBE – Chief Executive, Soil Association

Professor Tim Benton – UK Champion for Global Food Security and Professor of Population Ecology, University of Leeds

Ian Cairns - Farmer and SAC Consultant

Dr Julia Cooper – Newcastle University

John Faulconbridge - Director, Western Seeds

Dr Dan Froelich - Vice President, Agronomy - Ostara

Dr Mike Humphreys - Group Leader: Abiotic Stress Resistance and Nutrient-Use Efficiency - IBERS

Anne-Kristin Løes - Senior Scientist, Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming

Professor Mark Kibblewhite - Director, MK Soil Science Ltd

Professor Carlo Leifert - Research Development Professor of Ecological Agriculture, Newcastle University

Jeff Lowenfels – Author of Teaming with Microbes and Teaming with Nutrients

Dr Ashley Martin - Managing Director, Microbiology Laboratories Australia

John McCormick - Helens Bay Organic Gardens. 

Professor David Powlson – Department of Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems, Rothamsted Institute

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale – Lecturer, Newcastle University

Steve Townsend - CropSystems UK and Soil First Farming. More information will be added shortly

Dr Miroslav Vosátka - Director of the Institute of Botany, AS CR

Dr Robin Walker - Research Agronomist,SRUC

Ian Wilkinson - Managing Director, Cotswold Seeds

Rob Burtonshaw is a director of Farm Services Limited, a specialist land drainage contractor based in Warwickshire. The third generation of his family to work and manage the company, some of Rob’s earliest memories are of visiting sites with both his grandfather and father. A Nuffield Scholar, Rob chose ‘Land drainage and its role in Farming’s future’ as his topic. As part of this scholarship, Rob travelled the across North America and Europe, meeting as many people involved in land drainage as possible, this included: fellow contractors, Farmers, Machinery Manufacturers, Civil Servants and Academics. The report was published and presented to the Nuffield Conference in 2013 and since then Rob has been an advocate for the advantages of well drained soils. A graduate of Aberystwyth University, he lives in Leamington Spa with his Wife, Louisa and their young daughter.  

Helen Browning is a tenant farmer from Wiltshire and founded Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat and the Helen Browning brand of pork products.  Helen is the Chief Executive of the Soil Association in March 2011 and is also currently chair of the Food Ethics Council.

Professor Tim Benton is the “Champion” for the UK’s Global Food Security programme, leading, facilitating and coordinating its activities.  The Global Food Security programme is a partnership of the UK’s main public funders of research in food security, including the research councils and government departments (such as the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development, the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Food Standards’ Agency and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales).  The role of the Global Food Security programme is to ensure that strategically important research in this area is undertaken, and to add value to research via interdisciplinary collaboration, alignment and engagement of different communities of stakeholders.  Tim is also a vocal advocate for the issues of how to manage increasing demand for food in a way that is sustainable.

Ian Cairns is a farmer and part time consultant with SAC Consulting, the consultancy arm of SRUC. Ian is tenant of a 130ha National Trust farm in Northumberland, running 500 breeding sheep and a small suckler herd. The farm encourages public access and is developing a series of farming events for visitors. Ian worked as an SAC consultant in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland for nine years and worked with farmers on land improvement and rush management programmes. Since transferring to the north of England, he has delivered over 30 meetings or farm walks on rush management and control in England and Wales.

Dr Julia Cooper is a Lecturer in Soil Science at Newcastle University and an active member of the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group.  Her main areas of research interest are soil C and N cycling in agroecosytems, with particular emphasis on design of farming systems for maximum resource efficiency.  She previously coordinated the EU FP7 projects NUE-CROPS and N-TOOLBOX and is an active participant in both CORE ORGANIC II projects: TILMAN-ORG and IMPROVE-P.

John Faulconbridge is Director and Consultant at Western Seeds and completed an MSc in Organic Farming at Glasgow earlier this year. John has been involved in farming throughout his life. He established an independent seed company over 40 years ago supplying organic and conventional seed to farmers and horticultural growers throughout the UK and Ireland. John farms organically in Pembrokeshire, producing beef, crops and herbage. He also utilizes the farm for extensive organic farm trials in herbage (grass), cereals, cereal blends, cereal combi-crops, catch crops and green manures. Further organic trials are established and monitored on organic farms in the UK on an ongoing yearly basis.

Dr Dan Froehlich serves as VP of Agronomy for Ostara. He is responsible for technical development and support of Crystal Green including worldwide R & D activities.Froehlich was previously manager of New Product Development for The Mosaic Company.  He was responsible for the identification and development of innovative new agronomic products and service technologies, with special interest in high yield cropping systems.
Froehlich has B.S. and M.S. degrees from Iowa State University and earned a Ph. D. from the University of Minnesota.

Dr Mike Humphreys leads the Abiotic Stress Resistance and Nutrient-Use-Efficiency Group at IBERS, Aberystwyth University. Mike is a grass cytogeneticist by training but now has greatly expanded his research into plant trait genetics and is involved in many examples of multidisciplinary research, in recent times having a strong focus on root development and its impact on soils. Mike leads on all Aberystwyth University-based research and plant breeding of Festulolium grasses, which are natural hybrids between ryegrass and fescue species. The approaches used are holistic taking account not only of the future potential of the grasses for agricultural production at a time of climate change, but also their impact on their surroundings and in particular their potential to deliver a beneficial ecosystem service. Mike leads a consortium called SUREROOT which aims to produce grass and clover both for agricultural use and to combat flooding

Anne-Kristin Løes (Norwegian, born 1961) is a senior scientist at Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming, where she works on recycling of nutrients e.g. via anaerobic digestion, and fertilisation of crops within organic farming systems. Her childhood was on a conventional, mixed farm close to the oldest bio-dynamic farm of Norway, which was an inspiration for further agricultural studies. After completing a M Sc in soil science, she worked for long with farm level case studies of long-term organic and converting farms, before doing a doctoral degree on plant nutrition and root characteristics in cereals. In addition to the agronomy projects, she has been working with projects on public procurement of food and reasons for de-registering from certified organic production.

Professor Mark Kibblewhite is Director of MK Soil Science Ltd based in Beaminster, Dorset; Emeritus Professor of Soil Science at Cranfield University; and the President of Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE). His first priority is developing science and policy options for the assessment and better management of soil resources.  He is also working with others to establish an agenda for “Re-imagining Agriculture’ by developing concepts for entirely new agro-ecosystems that combine high yields with low environmental impacts.  At Cranfield he was Head of the Natural Resources Department and Director of the National Soil Resources Institute.  Other former roles have included being Chair of the European Soil Bureau Network, Head of Land Quality at the Environment Agency and Managing Director of the Environment Division of Hyder Consulting.  He graduated in chemistry from York University, did a PhD in soil science at Aberdeen and has an MBA from Cranfield.  He is a Fellow of IAgrE, a Chartered Environmentalist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Chartered Chemist.

Professor Carlo Leifert has  been Research Development Professor of Ecological Agriculture at Newcastle since 2000 and Director of the Stockbridge Technology Centre Ltd (STC) since 2001. Between 2012 and 2014 he was also Dean for Business Development in the Faculty of Science Agriculture and Engineering (SAgE) at Newcastle University.He leads the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG) and currently manages R&D projects focused on
•    applied agronomic R&D to improve quality and safety and reduce costs in sustainable and organic food production systems,
•    interactions between food production methods and food quality (especially nutritional and sensory quality) and safety characteristics and
•    the selection/breeding of crop and livestock varieties suitable for “low input” and organic production systems.
As a student he has worked on farms in Germany, Greece and Israel.

Jeff Lowenfels is a weekly columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. He is the founder of Plant a Row for The Hungry, a program that has created over 14 million meals to feed the hungry. A popular national garden writer and leading proponent of gardening using the concepts of the soil food web, Jeff is the former president of the Garden Writers of America and was made a GWA Fellow in 1999. In 2005, he was inducted into the GWA Hall of Fame. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Microbiology Laboratories Australia provides world-class commercial microbiology analyses for agriculture, forestry and the environment. It is a subsidiary of the microbiology consultancy company Creation Innovation Agriculture and Forestry (CIAAF), which was formed in 2007 with the aim of empowering farmers, agronomists, natural resource managers, fertiliser manufacturers and Government to make informed decisions about the use and management of microbiology in soil, water, compost, fertilisers and other media

John McCormick has been operating his organic market garden on the shores of Belfast Lough since 1991. On a twenty acre holding he has been growing vegetables for his box scheme of 300 customers , his farm shop and a market stall at the award winning Belfast St. George's market. Rotations , fertility building and crop planning are well established on field scale and in poly tunnels.  John  had an extensive organic career working with the Camphill Communities of Ireland prior to 1991 , served for ten years as Chair of the Irish Organic Centre and nine years as a Soil Association Trustee.

Professor David Powlson is a Lawes Trust Senior Fellow at Rothamsted Research and Visiting Professor in Soil Science at the University of Reading. His research has focussed on organic matter in soil and the efficient use of nitrogen by crops. He has a B.Sc. in Chemical Sciences (University of East Anglia) and a Ph.D. in Soil Science (University of Reading) and was formerly Head of the Soil Science Department at Rothamsted. Recently he has worked on international projects including research aimed at achieving more rational use of nitrogen fertilizer in China and studies on soil management in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with CIMMYT (The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre). He is an author of over 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals and a past President of the British Society of Soil Science; in 2006 was elected an Honorary member of the Society for services to soil science research.

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale is over-excited about soils and is currently a lecturer in the School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University. She has been involved in a wide range of research projects connected with the study of nutrient cycling in soils and with the environmental impact of farming systems. She also maintains a strong link to organic farming and has carried out research into nutrient cycling (N, P, K) in organic farming systems.

Steve Townsend has spent 37 years working in agriculture and he now owns and-runs The Soil First Farming Company Ltd – a company dedicated to making farmer’s more profit by improving their soil’s structure and fertility.For the last 16 years Steve has been working with farmers advising them on minimum tillage and no-till systems in the UK & Ireland as well as a  a comprehensive soil testing service and the supply of speciality fertilisers. Prior to running his own business Steve spent 13 years with Monsanto, the last five of which he lead the ECOtillage project looking a minimum tillage for the UK within a partnership with Simba International Ltd.  Steve is also a hobby farmer with 24 acres of Gloucestershire grassland - along with his wife Sharon and daughters Holly and Katie keep sheep, cattle and pigs.

Dr Miroslav Vosátka has studied biology and chemistry at Charles University of Prague. Since that he has been working on fundamental and applied science projects focused on mycorrhizal fungi, soil biota, organic cultivation of crops in Europe but also in numerous countries on several continents. He has published over 100 scientific papers and contributed to books on soil microbiology and plant cultivations. He has also been teaching at several universities on topics of plant ecophysiology and mycorrhizal symbioses. He was involved in more than 40 national and international projects on mycorrhiza research and applications. Currently he is a director of the Institute of Botany, Czech Academy of Sciences.
Beside the scientific career he has been involved in several projects on manufacturing mycorrhizal fungi products (in Iceland, Kenya, UAE, South Africa and China). While living in the UK he has worked as a production director of UK mycorrhiza manufacturer PlantWorks Ltd. For the last 15 years he has been consultant of the largest manufacturer and distributor of mycorrhizal products in Europe - Czech company Symbiom Ltd. He was a foundation president of Federation of European producers of mycorrhizal inocula.   

Dr Robin Walker is employed by SRUC as a Research Agronomist, with a remit to develop sustainable production systems for crops. Robin has an interest in both organic and non-organic systems, with a desire to develop these systems to deliver benefits not only to the farmer, but to the wider environment. One of his major roles is the management and development of the long-term organic rotation trial at SAC Aberdeen which has been running since 1991. He has a particular interest in crop / soil nutrient dynamics, which stems from my PhD investigating crop growth and N use in reduced input conditions. Recent work has concentrated on the development of systems incorporating legumes into rotations either through undersowing, or as component of an intercrop.

Ian Wilkinson studied farm and grassland management at Berkshire College of Agriculture and joined Cotswold Seeds 30 years ago, since when he’s developed the business with a fundamental focus on the role of providing a bridge between farmers and the scientific community. A family business based in Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswold Seeds has built its reputation on developing forage, green manures and complex seed mixtures as well as providing a personal service to it’s customers, which now number 10,000 farmers and landowners across the UK.If there is one man who has inspired and influenced the work of Cotswold Seeds and guided product development its Frank Newman Turner, a pioneering farmer and author who believed in ‘health from the soil up’. It’s a subject about which MD Ian Wilkinson is passionate and about which Cotswold Seeds has produced a number of publications, the latest being the ground-breaking ‘Sort out Your Soil’.

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Supported by...

Duchy College European Agricultural Fund ADAS Defra RASE NRM Laboratories Garford Woodland Trust Edaphos Western Seeds Nafferton Ecological Farming Group Newcastle University Farm Consultancy Group Good Energy edge

This project is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part funded (or financed) by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.