In 2011, Elizabeth Stockdale led a Natural England project involving farmers and growers across the UK combining literature review with farmer workshops to allow the evaluation of a range of different farming practices with the potential to deliver benefits through the soil biota, looking at the likely mechanisms, benefits, and practical constraints and opportunities for farming systems. This talk will summarise the key findings for grassland management. The project considered both systems-oriented approaches (involving management changes across the whole farm), and “point interventions”, which are usually short-term and target specific aspects of the soil biota or their environment. The project identified three general principles that are most likely to deliver benefits through the soil biota: increase OM inputs to soil; increase diversity of aboveground plant species; and reduce tillage intensity.
In livestock systems, on-farm management changes to manure handling with reduced direct use of slurry and more on-farm composting provide an opportunity to enhance soil biota, mainly through reduced negative impacts of slurry application. In addition, increased species diversity in swards can bring a number of benefits not only linked to the support of soil biota.