Using roots to bio-engineer soil

Roots can bio-engineer soil, because they improve infiltration and soil structure amongst lots of other benefits such as erosion control and nutrient management. Cover crops are a way for UK growers to address soil health and provide benefits for the environment, but the practice isn`t widely adopted because robust science that provides evidence of the multiple benefits of cover crops is lacking.

No study has looked at the effects of root properties of cover crops to enhance multiple soil functions and no study has provided a robust methodology how to combine multiple cover crop species to address multiple soil functions.

The main aim of the BBSRC funded study `Using roots to bio-engineer soil` ( is therefore to develop a novel framework to select and combine complementary root traits in cover crops that prevent soil resource losses and improve crop growth conditions.

Key highlights to date include

  • Cover crop roots act like ‘bio-drills’, improving soil structure and reducing compaction
  • Earthworm numbers tripled in our recent field trial using cover crops to protect soil and introduce organic matter
  • Crops with large tap roots are not necessarily best at reducing compaction

For more information on the benefits cover crops can bring come to the seminar on ‘Rooting for profit provided by cover crops’ during the Crop Establishment Sessions (Wednesday 27th November – 3.20pm – 4.30pm and Thursday 28th of November  9.30 – 10.40am). Results will also be displayed on the Cranfield University Stand.  For further details contact Dr Sarah De Baets

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