Notes from Soil Association's 'Understanding Soils' event, Laverstoke Park

06 December 2010

Over 80 delegates attended the Soil Association's Understanding Soil event at Laverstoke Park, in Hampshire, on 1 December. It was fascinating day with numerous expert presentations and discussions on the association between soil biology and the availability and release of nutrients to feed crops and livestock to their optimum level.

On the basis that the more widely we can share this information, the more people will benefit, the Soil Association is delighted to make key presentations and information from the event available to all.

Charles Dowding – 'No dig pioneer', Lower Farm

Listen to presentation: Healthy soil for healthy plants [MP3 format]

For three decades, Charles has grown organic vegetables for sale, without soil cultivation. He currently crops two acres, principally for salad leaves, sold in local shops and restaurants, and also a wide range of vegetables, all on undug and surface composted beds. He has written three books on vegetable growing, gives talks and runs day courses at the farm and other venues, see

Dr Vinodh Krishnamurphy – Laverstoke Park Laboratories

View PowerPoint presentation: Soil tests and what they tell us 
Listen to presentation: Part 1 and Part 2 [MP3] 

Dr Vinodh Krishnamurthy, microbiologist, managing the Soil Foodweb Inc., laboratory services at Laverstoke Park. Vinodh has always been fascinated with “bugs” and this interest made him to pursue his career in microbiology. His research work primarily focused on epidemiology of fungal plant pathogens and biological control of plant diseases. He was awarded PhD from Aberdeen University for his work in developing a soil test to detect fungal pathogen that can cause devastatation to soft fruits such as strawberries. While working as Research Fellow at Nottingham University, he investigated how to control plant diseases within nurseries. The progress achieved in this project has contributed valuable knowledge to growers in their crop management and protection. Vinodh is keen to take science from the lab bench to the field and have been working with farmers and growers promoting organic amendments such as using compost and compost teas and enabling them to achieve sustainable farming.

Dr Colin May – Laverstoke Park Laboratories

View PowerPoint presentaion: Soil nutrient management in biological farming
Listen to presentation: Soil nutriet management in biological farming [MP3] 

Colin has always had a strong interest in environmental issues, which coupled with a love of chemistry lead him to doctoral research studying the interactions of heavy metals and man-made contaminants in soils. He is now utilising his knowledge of soil chemistry and experience of analytical method development in the Laverstoke Park Chemistry Laboratory to both monitor soil health on the farm and to improve our understanding of the high quality organic food produced.

Charlie Morgan - Hay on Wye Grassmaster

View PowerPoint presentation: Good soil management
Listen to presentation: Good soil management [MP3]

Independent grassland consultant, Charlie worked for IGER for 22 years where he helped develop new grass varieties and grazing methods to benefit UK agriculture. He spent 10 years as lead officer for sheep, beef and environmental management systems at the Grassland Development Centre. Charlie is an author on over 60 scientific publications; was HCC, Meat Promotion Wales Scholar for 2002/03, studying technology transfer methods in New Zealand and Australia, and is currently Secretary of the Welsh Federation of Grassland Societies which is affiliated to the British Grassland Society. For the last 14 months he has been working mainly in England as independent grassland consultant and consultant to EBLEX, also works with Innovis, Environment Agency, IBERS, BGS and individual farmers.

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale – Newcastle University

View PowerPoint presentation 1: Get to grips with your soils 
Listen to presentation 1: Get to grips with your soils [MP3]
View PowerPoint presentation 2: Understanding nutrients at farm and rotation scale
Listen to presentation 2: Understanding nutrients at farm and rotation scale [MP3]

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.

Tom Tolputt – Lesquite Farm and Farm Consultancy Group

View PowerPoint presentation: Soil based minerals and organic livestock
Listen to presentation: Soil based minerals and organic livestock [MP3]

Tom Tolputt is a farmer and consultant, working with the Farm Consultancy Group. He farms 215ha if organic and in-conversion land in Cornwall which is focusing on low carbon beef production and 60ha of cereals. Tom spent seven years working for an American animal nutrition company which gave a very good understanding of ruminant nutrition and he now advises organic dairy farmers all over the South West of England.

Dr Christopher Van der Gast – Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

PowerPoint presentation: Soil biodiversity is crucial to healthy soil
Listen to presentation: Soil biodiversity is crucial to healthy soil [MP3]

Dr Christopher van der Gast is an Environmental Microbiologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. His research is focused upon unravelling the complexity of microbial systems by applying community ecology approaches to better understand the affects of anthropogenic impacts on such systems. His research encompasses a wide variety of habitats and ecosystems including; agricultural soils, Antarctic lake systems, Icelandic volcanoes, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment systems, to lung infections of humans.

Peter Melchett - Soil Association

Listen to presentation: Public goods from soils [MP3]

Peter Melchett is policy director of the Soil Association, the UK organic food and farming organisation, responsible for campaigns, standards and policy. He runs an 360ha organic farm in Norfolk, with pigs, beef cattle and arable seed crops. He is a member of the Government’s Rural Climate Change Forum and the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee. He was a member of the Government’s Organic Action Plan Group, and the Department of Education’s School Lunches Review Panel. He was a special lecturer in biological sciences at Nottingham University 1984-2002 and was on the Board of the EU £12 million Research Project ‘Quality Low Input Food’. He was a Labour Government Minister 1974-79, at the Departments of Environment, Industry, and Northern Ireland (covering education and health).  He was president or chair of several conservation ngos, and was director of Greenpeace UK (1985-2000), and chaired Greenpeace Japan (1995-2001).

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