The origins of a Career from soil

“In our first blog post of 2018, Simon Parfey of Soil Hub International and SoilBioLab Ltd gives us his alternative career in soil science. Simon Parfey spends most days working from and coordinating samples and testing for clients at SoilBioLab, 213 The Commercial Centre, Picket Piece, Hants SP11 6RU.  For more information contact Simon on simon@thesoilhub.com or call him at the lab on (01264) 749761.”

It’s there. It’s always been there, or at least as long as we can remember. Over thousands of years we have lived alongside it, worked on it, taken from it, coexisted in harmony and now the very existence of our (useful) soils are in crisis.

We already know so much about this valuable natural resource and as we increase our understanding we are awakened to the realisation that we also know so very little about how soils functions through a complicated array of known and as yet undetected, subtle and microscopic interactions that take place. What does soil health mean?

Things are changing though and finally it seems, soil is ‘sexy’.

Considering the stakes for humanity, I find it absolutely fascinating that the knowledge gap is so great whilst we continue to put unnecessary energy in to debunking anti-climate change conspiracies.  As of the end of 2017 calculated estimates put the percentage of our planet’s oceans explored, at less than 5%. However, we have sent 4 times as many people to the moon than people to the deepest depths of our own seas. 

Moreover, the microscope gave scientists almost a 20 year head start over the astronomers who adopted the telescope as their ‘tool of choice’. Yet, it is commonly thought that we know more about the surface of the moon than our own soil. I reflect on this as a testament to the nature of mankind which is perpetually fascinated by looking outward, rather than at that which is right under our noses, or in this case, feet.

We need you!

With so many opinions given air through social media campaigns and the growing need through calls for action for more research, never has there been a better and more interesting time to enter in to the world of soil science.

When I opened SoilBioLab, over three and a half years ago, I had a very clear objective in mind – help people that grow things (at large and small scales) by offering something unique but useful, that would help them to understand their soil better. Since then, the demand and extent of our reach has increased dramatically as farmers, growers, land managers, greenkeepers, groundsmen and organisations across Europe now want to know what microbiology is in their soil – so they can look after it better and harness the benefits of ‘active soil’.

Having developed a passion for soil since a young age, although not necessarily aware of it at the time (I spent most of my childhood covered in the stuff), why did I end up choosing microbiology rather than chemistry or physical testing for a service related business?

The truth is I’ve always had a spark for tackling problems in a less conventional way.  It just so happens that this speciality area of soil science is not so niche anymore and everyone wants to get their piece of the (mud) pie. The concepts and general principles are so visual and conjure a story for every sample of soil that we inspect. The sample’s ‘story’ is easily replicated in the mind and exercises our intellect, by engaging our inquisitive side – scratching the surface of something that is far more complicated than we are currently able to fully understand. More mainstream analytical methods do not relate an experience quite like this in my opinion.

As we move in to the next age of understanding, the wave of new technology is making better testing methods available at lower cost. Over the course of the last quarter of a century, the soil toolbox at our disposal has grown to something so much more than the simple pieces of optical apparatus that were first developed around the turn of the 1600’s.

And let’s not forget Big Data!

Soil data collection, management and analysis is a really exciting area that I have become more involved in and takes me beyond my boundaries; so I get a buzz engaging people from other disciplines to apply their expertise (plus I love working as a team and it’s often too much for my tiny brain to handle!).

Why you should get in to soil?

It’s an absolutely fascinating world down there, under our feet. The ‘micro’ is teaching us a lot more about the environment that we are engaged with in our day to day lives.  As a result, slowly but surely, we are beginning to understand the effects of our actions more fully.  Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a movement that helps to accelerate this process?

Soil holds the key to the past – when we think of natural history, fossils and dinosaur bones.

Soil represents the future – the potential for mankind to colonise new planets, one day.

What’s there not love?

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

BTW – I am always on the lookout for talented scientists that thinks like we do. So if you are interested in a career in a unique working environment, please reach out to me!

Author: Simon Parfey

Twitter: @peat_free