Dr Bruce Ball

Scotland's Rural College

Research Interests

My research interests are in soil physics, mainly soil structure and soil gases, and in the links between soils and society. Soil structure determines soil porosity which provides the space for soil life. I have devoted much effort to the description of soil structure and the modelling of soil porosity.

Alongside colleagues, my research currently involves investigation of how organic farming, dairy farming, crofting, minimum tillage and compaction influence greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen status and soil quality. I work closely with colleagues from the James Hutton Institute on the assessment of soil quality and how it influences the sustainability of crop management systems and adaptation to climate change.

I am also interested in the spiritual and ethical connections between soil, agriculture and communities with a view to improving food security by empowering farmers. I work on drawing parallels between soil and human characteristics and behaviour. This enables me to identify priorities for developing holism and deeper connections within and between individuals and the environment with the aim of improving sustainability.

I have links with Brazil, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand on visual assessment of soil quality and on soil recovery from compaction damage. I collaborate with colleagues in New Zealand on mitigation of greenhouse gases fluxes from intensively grazed pastures.

My consultancy interests mainly centre on the development and promotion of the spade test called visual evaluation of soil structural quality (VESS) #vess and #subvess. This simple test enables farmers to identify soil problems such as compaction and poaching by animal hooves, tillage and anaerobic conditions caused by flooding and to target appropriate remedial action such as subsoiling.

Selected Publications

  • Ball, B.C., Hallett, P.D., Wheatley, R., Griffiths, B., Walker, R.L., Rees, R.M., Watson, C.A., Gordon, H., McKenzie, B.M., Nevison, I.M. and Topp, C.F.E. 2014. Nitrous oxide emissions and minimum tillage, compost application and organic farming. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 189: 171-180
  • Ball, B.C. The Landscape Below: Soil, Spirituality and Agriculture. Wild Goose Publications, in press, publication due in 2014.
  • Troldborg, M., Aalders, I., Towers, W., Hallett, P.D., McKenzie, B.M., Bengough, A.G., Lilly, A., Ball, B.C. and Hough, R.L. 2013. Application of Bayesian Belief Networks to quantify and map areas at risk to soil threats: Using soil compaction as an example. Soil & Tillage Research 132: 56-68.
  • Ball, B.C. 2013. Soil structure and greenhouse gas emissions: a synthesis of 20 years of experimentation. European Journal of Soil Science 64: 357-373
  • Ball, B.C. 2013. Spiritual aspects of sustainable soil management. In: Lal, R. and Stewart, B.A. (eds) Principles of Sustainable Soil Management in Agroecosystems. Advances in Soil Science book series, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, Boca Raton, FL, USA, 257-284.
  • Ball, B.C., Munkholm, L.J. and Batey, T. 2013. Applications of visual soil evaluation. Soil & Tillage Research 127: 1-2. Introduction to a special issue of Soil & Tillage Research devoted to visual soil evaluation and edited by Lars Munkholm, Bruce Ball and Tom Batey.
  • Ball, B.C., Cameron, K.C., Di, H.J. and Moore, S. 2012. Effects of trampling of a wet dairy pasture soil on soil porosity and on mitigation of nitrous oxide emissions by a nitrification inhibitor, dicyandiamide. Soil Use and Management 28: 194-201.
  • Smith, K.A, Dobbie, K.E., Thorman, R., Watson, C.J., Chadwick, D.R., Yamulki, S. and Ball, B.C. 2012. The effect of N fertilizer forms on nitrous oxide emissions from UK arable land and grassland. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 93: 127-149.
  • Soane, B.D., Ball, B.C., Arvidsson, J., Basch, G., Moreno, F., Roger-Estrade, J. 2012. No-till in northern, western and south-western Europe: A review of problems and opportunities for crop production and the environment. Soil and Tillage Research 118: 66-87.
  • Mueller, L., Schindler, U., Shepherd, T.G., Ball, B.C., Smolentseva, E., Hu, C., Hennings, V., Schad, P., Rogasik, J., Zeitz, J., Schlindwein, S.L., Behrendt, A., Helming, K. and Eulenstein, F. 2012. A framework for assessing agricultural soil quality on a global scale. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science 58, No. S1, S76-S82.
  • Guimarães, R.M.L., Ball, B.C. and Tormena, C.A. 2011. Improvements in visual evaluation of soil structure. Soil Use and Management 27: 395-403.
  • Mariscal-Sancho, I., Ball, B.C. and Peregrina, F. 2011. Soil quality dynamics following long-term application of poultry manure and sewage sludge on grassland. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 42: 656-668.
  • Rees, R.M. and Ball, B.C. 2010. Soils and nitrous oxide research. Soil Use and Management 26: 193-195.
  • Griffiths, B.S., Ball, B.C., Daniell, T.J., Hallett, P.D., Neilson, R., Wheatley R.E., Osler G. and Bohanec, M. 2010. Integrating soil quality changes to arable agricultural systems following organic matter addition, or adoption of ley-arable rotation. Applied Soil Ecology 46: 43-53.
  • MacLeod, M, Moran, D, Eory, V., Rees, R.M, Barnes, A., Topp, C.F.E., Ball, B., Hoad, S., Wall, E., McVittie, A., Pajot, G., Matthews, R., Smith, P. and Moxey, A. 2010. Developing greenhouse gas marginal abatement cost curves for agricultural emissions from crops and soils in the UK. Agricultural Systems 103: 198-209.
  • Lilly, A., Ball, B.C., McTaggart, I.P. and DeGroote, J. 2009. Spatial modelling of nitrous oxide emissions at the national scale using NiTox: the role of soils, climate and land use. Global Change Biology 15: 2321-2332.