Our research-focused chemical analysis laboratory provides soil, water, plant and foliage (leaf) testing to support a wide range of agricultural and forest-related activities.
Plant, soil and water analyses are key to any environmental or site monitoring exercise, whether for regulatory or research purposes. We can provide a basic laboratory testing service, or work with you as a full research partner. As a member of the Environmental Change Network (ECN), for example, we are involved in an integrated monitoring programme, using rain and soil analyses from across the UK to detect environmental change and assess its impacts.
Nutrient deficiency (or excess) in crops
Nutrient deficiency reduces crop yields: timber from trees, fruits, cereals and vegetables. An excess of nutrients – or a significant imbalance – has a similar effect or reduces the quality of the harvested crop.
A shortage (or excess) of nutrients can cause serious reductions in crop growth, yield and the quality of the crop produced. Essential major nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium are required in relatively large quantities, whilst trace elements such as manganese, copper and boron are required in very small quantities. Many crops show large and very profitable responses to the correct use of lime and fertiliser in terms of both the yield and quality of the crop produced.
All crops require large quantities of essential major nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium), plus trace elements such as manganese, copper and boron. By applying lime and fertiliser in the correct proportions, growers can cost effectively raise the yield and quality of their produce.
Our total carbon and nitrogen tests, trace element and major cation analyses of plant material provide an excellent profile of nutrients uptake by plants and may help in diagnosis either excess or deficiency.
Chlorosis is a condition in which leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll and appear pale, yellow, or yellow-white. The affected plant has little or no ability to manufacture carbohydrates through photosynthesis and may die unless the cause of its chlorophyll deficiency is treated.
There are numerous causes of this condition, but our suite of chemical tests will allow you to identify the cause.
Specific nutrient deficiencies such as low iron (often aggravated by high soil pH) produce chlorosis, which may be corrected by supplemental feedings of iron, magnesium or nitrogen compounds in various combinations.
Some pesticides, particularly herbicides, may also cause chlorosis, ostensibly to damage weeds, but occasionally poor application or broad spectrum pesticide products my also affect the treated crop.
De-icing may also cause chlorosis in trees and shrubs. Our comparative chloride analysis of unhealthy and healthy samples helps us to detect any chloride excess which is indicative of de-icing salt damage.
Forest health monitoring
European legislation in 1994 initiated an intensive long term monitoring programme of forest ecosystems.This work identified several cause-effect relationships which may threaten the health of European forests. We are analysing rainfall, throughfall (water fall through a forest canopy) and soil solution samples from different forest sites across the UK to provide essential data on forest health and to input into forest growth modelling and simulations.
Water analysis is essential to understand how forests and forestry management practices affect the freshwater environment (e.g. increased turbidity and siltation; impact of aerial fertiliser applications; enhanced capture of acid deposition by forest canopies leading to further surface water acidification, nitrate concentrations within ground waters).
These two methods use plants to immobilise, convert, or remove soil contaminants generated by industrial processes.
Conventional ‘clean-up’ methods involve the removal or isolation of contaminated soil. This approach tends to be damaging to ecosystems and also very expensive. Planting trees and plants is comparatively inexpensive.
As vegetation becomes more established on a contaminated site it helps to restrict or prevent wind erosion, leaching, surface water run off and erosion. Vegetation thus helps to break or weaken links between the source of contamination and receptors.
Plants and trees that accumulate contaminants (typically heavy metals) may sometimes require harvesting and removal to prevent the recycling of pollutants back into the soil or high up the food chain.
Our heavy metal, trace element and major cation testing provide crucial data on the progress of phytoremediation and phytostabilisation projects. Regular testing for levels of contaminants in plants and soils allow project managers to monitor remediation sites. Unusual drops in concentrations may indicate new leaching pathways or the failure of a permeable reactive barrier, for example.
Many contaminants can have a detrimental effect on tree survival, growth and physiological function. Our laboratory has participated in research to identify the upper critical concentration at which such effects take place.
We have investigated tree tolerance to heavy metals and developed models of lead, copper, cadmium and zinc tolerance for a variety of tree species. Following our chemical analysis of your plant, foliage and soil samples from contaminated land, we can use our models and growth simulations to provide you with practical advice on the best species to plant, based on your short-term remediation goals and long-term plans for the site.
Plants grown on metal contaminated soils can take up high levels of metals which would enter the food chain. Our plant analysis is essential for monitoring this uptake, identifying potentially ecotoxicological concentrations that require the harvesting of foliage or the full removal of plants or trees.
Sludges, organic manures, incinerator ash and wastes applied to land
Any products applied to land must meet strict quality criteria. They must be analysed for levels of heavy metals before they may be used as soil amendments.
In the UK there are statutory soil limits for seven potentially toxic elements (PTE)s: cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni) and zinc (Zn). Our soil analysis service measures the total content of each of these. The Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989 and the Defra Soil Code also link the level of these heavy metals to soil pH because acidity affects the bioavailability of metals to plants.
The Soil Code advises that the same limits should be followed for other metal-containing organic manures and wastes applied to land.
Soil surveys allow site owners to measure the quality of their land over the long-term. Insights from soil monitoring schemes can reveal potential declines in nutrient levels, leaching, over- or under-fertilisation of crops or new sources of pollution. Without regular testing these long-term trends are difficult to identify.
Plant, soil and water analysis can all contribute to studies on climate change, providing sensitive, long-term data on subtle changes in the health of ecosystems. Forest Research is currently involved in assessing the impact of climate change on soil carbon storage.
Costs and charges
Please consult our price list for standard test charges
We also offer a broad range of specialist tests. Please contact us to discuss your specific requirements so we can provide you with a fully itemised costing.