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The impact of hemp cultivation on biodiversity and soil health

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Field Lab Timeline

    5/1/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Virtual soil sampling training

    Virtual soil sampling training
  • 6/14/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Above ground biodiversity training

    Above ground biodiversity training
  • 6/29/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Data collection - above ground biodiversity

    Data collection - above ground biodiversity
  • 9/14/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Harvest

  • 10/14/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Post-harvest soil sampling

    Post-harvest soil sampling
  • 3/31/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • 2nd year of trials commences

    2nd year of trials commences
  • 4/14/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • Pre-sowing soil sampling

    Pre-sowing soil sampling
  • 6/29/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • Above-ground biodiversity monitoring

    Above-ground biodiversity monitoring
  • 7/14/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • Open farm visit

    Open farm visit
  • 9/14/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • Harvest (yr 2)

    Harvest (yr 2)
  • 10/14/2022 11:00:00 PM
  • Post harvest soil sampling

    Post harvest soil sampling
  • 11/30/2022 12:00:00 AM
  • Final report published

    Final report published
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    July 2021

    Biodiversity assessments

    At the farm visit in July, entomologist Dr. David George from Newcastle University took us through some suggested ways to measure above-ground biodiversity. We agreed on the following protocol:

    • Ideally, visit all sites on a single day. It is important to do these assessments in the right weather conditions - i.e. temperatures above 15.5 degrees Celsius, wind speeds ideally under 5.6 mph, enough sun to see your shadow, not raining
    • Walk along field edge (ideally a path that transects the centre of the field)
    • Measure a 20 metre length
    • Starting at 2 metres, stop and record the number of insects in a 1m2 area in front of you, and where possible, categorise these into groups, e.g. bumblebees - pollinators, other bees - pollinators, ladybirds (adults) - predators, ladybirds (larvae/pupae - predators), dance flies - predators, etc. (full list in the guide in the Documents section of this page). It is useful to be familiar with larval/pupal stages of certain species such as ladybirds and hoverflies - common predatory insects.
    • Do the final count at 18 metres.
    • To maximise the reliability of the data collected, repeat this exercise four times. Statistical power increases significantly from three to four replications.

    The triallists will be using an insect observation data collection sheet which David prepared. This can be downloaded in the Documents section in the top right corner of this page.

    Milestone: Above ground biodiversity training

    July 2021

    Soil and biodiversity training

    The group met at the farm at East Yorkshire Hemp in early July for a day of training. They also had the chance to visit the processing facilities, where the hemp is turned into fibre and the remainder is pressed into briquettes for fuel.

    Lynda Deeks, soils researcher at Cranfield University, took the group through a 5-step guide for farmers/land managers to measure soil health, where each category receives a score, then tallied up for a final soil health score.

    We undertook the assessments at the edge of a field as the hemp had grown tall so access to a more suitable spot for soil assessments was limited. However, the assessments will be done pre-sowing and post-harvest so a proper sampling procedure can be followed. If you would like to carry out your own assessments, the sampling protocol can be found in the documents section above.

    The guide covers:
    • Soil structure (visual assessment + drop shatter test to understand the distribution of soil aggregates)
    • Drainage
    • Compaction
    • Organic Matter
    • Biological health (e.g. worms, living organisms)

    For the purposes of this field lab, they are skipping out the soil pH & nutrient step. The guide was produced by LEAF and can be found at or in the documents section above.

    Additionally, the group went through the drainpipe method - a quick, user-friendly technique for measuring infiltration (see documents section above). Lynda recommended that assessments should start with the drainpipe method as it may take a while for the water to drain through the pipe, so other assessments can be done in the meantime.

    Milestone: Above ground biodiversity training

    May 2021

    Guidance on choosing sample areas

    The group were trained on how to go about selecting sampling areas. When you select your sample area, have in mind the following:

    • An area that is not too large but is representative of the field
    • An area where the crop is uniform
    • An area within a single soil type
    • An area of uniform slope gradient and slope direction
    • If you have access to a GPS device use it to record the location of your sample area so you can return to these points later. Otherwise mark the area on a map. If practical also mark the corners of the area in the field with something like a flag or spray paint.
    • The comparison (control) plot/field should be of the same soil type to the trial plot/field and adhere to the above criteria.

    For soil carbon samples:

    • Samples will be collected at random points across the representative sample area following a standard W shaped pattern of sampling. At each point on the W, collect a soil sample, meaning a total of 5 random soil samples will be collected across the area.
    • Ensure a sampling depth of 0.3m (0.0 to 0.03m depth) where soil permits - this is best done with an auger but can be done using a spade. • Make sure the soil sample face is vertical, so that you are collecting the sample amount of soil across the soil depth.
    • Place all soil samples into one clean bucket. Once all 5 samples have been collected in the bucket,
    mix the soil together thoroughly to form a composite soil sample. Remove all roots and plant material; scoop out approx 300g of soil and place in the bag to send off for analysis.

    Other soil health samples:

    • Return to three of the points on the W sampling area that you used to collect your soil carbon samples from. Be careful to avoid where you previously disturbed the soil. Undertake the assessments as described above (further guidance in the Documents section).

    Milestone: Virtual soil sampling training

    May 2021

    Trial design

    The following measurements will be taken on site by each farmer:

    SOIL (change over time, before planting and after harvest)
    • Soil organic carbon (SOC) - using NRM's Soil Carbon Check service, sampling kits will be sent to the growers. They will collect 5 random samples at 0.3 metres deep across the representative area following a standard W pattern of sampling and send these off to NRM labs for analysis

    • Soil structure - using the visual soil assessment (VSA) which includes a range of soil properties (soil texture, soil structure), three random sampling points will be chosen within the representative area (coinciding with the SOC sampling points). Infiltration will be assessed using the single ring falling head method, to understand the main drainage and aeration channels through the soil. Three infiltration measurements will be taken at three of the VSA sampling points.

    • Soil biology - earthworm counts, including midden counts as a surrogate to indicate anecic earthworm activity. The group will follow AHDB's GreatSoils 'How to count earthworms' guide. All middens within a 1 metre radius of the VSA sample point will be collected.

    • Crop biomass - assessments of post-harvest biomass remaining in the field to understand nutrients available for next crop. This will be collected at the same sampling points as the SOC assessments and sent off to a laboratory for N,P and K assessments. NB: Laboratories require a license to handle hemp.

    • Above-ground biodiversity abundance - a simple walk through fields, counting and categorising insects, particularly pollinators or predatory insects, including larval/pupal stages.
    • Below-ground biodiversity = soil biology as above

    Milestone: Virtual soil sampling training

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