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The sustainable delivery of nutrient-rich food, while simultaneously maintaining natural capital under climate change, is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Our focus is on optimising the performance of arable and grazing livestock systems – from soil to plate.

Challenge 5:

What are the causes of existing yield and efficiency gaps and how can the majority of farmers achieve at least 80% of the attainable potential on a consistent basis?

Challenge 6:

What future crop and livestock systems will achieve high productivity and nutrient value while also reducing environmental impacts and ensuring economic viability?

The science in this portfolio is directly targeted at some of the UK’s most pressing agricultural challenges: improving productivity, using resources more efficiently, lifting soil health and structure, enhancing wildlife and landscape biodiversity, reducing the carbon footprint, and raising the nutritional quality of crop and livestock produce.

We hope to gain a much deeper understanding of the soil microbiome and other microscale processes and mechanisms that underlie sustainable systems. We apply new thinking and new methods to address fundamental questions, such as what makes a healthy soil and what causes yield and efficiency gaps at the plant scale. We also pursue ‘big data’ approaches to look at agriculture systems in a holistic, intensive manner that will support more precise management solutions.

We hope to manipulate the underlying mechanisms in an informed way to optimise processes at field, whole-farm and landscape scales, and so provide a much more precise management of arable and livestock farms. We combine theory with experimentation in the field and at landscape levels to test novel strategies in the real world. We don’t make the machines to manage soils, crops or animals, but we can contribute much of the ‘know-how’ needed to guide their design.