IT brings a whole new meaning to soiled underpants.

A string of farmers have buried their Y-fronts and boxer shorts to determine the health of their soil. After eight weeks, the cotton garments are retrieved and a visual inspection of their condition reveals the level of soil microbial activity that can be used to pinpoint ways to improve soil health.

Tim Isaac, head of knowledge exchange at Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Cereals and Oilseeds, said: “Burying underwear sounds like a bit of fun, but it can give us some serious messages about future-proofing our soils. It can reveal the state of our soil health and give us an insight into which tools we should develop across the farm to encourage soil biology and improve soil structure.”

The technique involves burying a pair of white, 100 per cent cotton pants in the top six inches of soil, leaving the waistband showing and marking the location. To test the impact of soil type, rotation and management, they repeat at several locations. After eight weeks, the underwear is extracted carefully and washed in a bucket of water.

Brian Barker and Russell McKenzie, of Stowmarket and Huntingdon Monitor Farm, will bring their findings to Cereals 2017, a technical event that will look at which field on the farm worked best and whether burying pants changed their management practices.