Soil health assessment for sustainable land use and profitable crop production in the Northeastern USA

Final Report for LNE06-235

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $249,203.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
George Abawi
Cornell University, NYSAES
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Project Information

Summary:

Intensive crop production in the Northeast region has often resulted in soil degradation, contributing to reduced crop yield, increased production inputs and lower farm profitability, thus there is an increased interest in soil health. This three-year project was initiated by our team of growers, extension educators and academic staff in New York, Maryland, and Vermont with the overall goal to provide soil health outreach programs and research collaborations in the NE region.

Our team has considerably exceeded its target and reached >2,550 growers and other agricultural service providers by holding or participating in over 53 grower meetings, field days, special educational sessions, and hands-on workshops in New York, Maryland, Vermont and other states in the NE region. In addition, several of the team members made presentations on various soil health issues at professional meetings in the region, nationally and internationally. Furthermore, team members completed the publications of numerous informal and formal publications on various soil health issues as well as revising and expanding the offerings on the soil health website at Cornell (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu).

A total of 2,450 soil samples were analyzed for their soil health status according to the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Protocol during the 3-year duration of this project. Of the latter, 810 soil samples (one composite soil sample/field or production unit) were submitted by growers in New York, Maryland, Vermont and other states in the NE region. Team members assisted participating growers in the interpretation of the user-friendly soil health reports and also with the list of suggested soil management options to address identified constraints. Positive feedback was received from participating growers and other agricultural service providers on the benefits of soil health testing and addressing the identified soil health constraints in the report as well as the educational program provided by our team. Results of a mailed survey conducted in summer 2009 showed that 96% and 92% of respondents stated that the soil health report was helpful, and assisted them in identifying critical soil health constraints on their farms, respectively. In addition, 63% of respondents thought they have already noticed an improvement in their operation or farm profitability as a result of modification in their practices (tillage systems, cover cropping and/or crop rotation). Personal discussions with 7 participating growers confirmed the results of the mailed survey.

Our team also maintained and sampled a number of long-term soil health research sites to increase our understanding of how production practices and their various combinations impact soil health. In New York for example, results obtained from the replicated long-term soil health site at the Gates Farm in Geneva (about 14 acres consisting of 3 tillage systems X 3 cover crops X two rotations) showed that the reduced tillage systems improved the values of measured soil health indicators compared to plow-till system. To-date, soil health indicators showing significant differences include wet aggregate stability, active carbon, potentially mineralizable nitrogen and several macro- and micronutrients (phosphorus, potassium, and zinc). In Maryland, results of a cover crop experiment showed that winter rye increased mycorrhizal colonization of the following corn crop and also increased available phosphorus, active carbon and aggregate stability of the soil. In another test in Maryland, forage radish cover crop almost eliminated run-off and erosion during medium intensity rainstorms. Also, roots of corn were found to be more abundant in the deeper layers of compacted soil after a cover crop of forage radish.

The extensive soil health dataset of over 5,000 samples now has been shared with collaborators and been used in the interpretations and setting ranges for the measured soil health indicators. Our team has already modified the scoring functions for rating a number of critical soil health indicators based on this valuable dataset. The team also completed the revision, printing and posting on the team’s website of the second edition on the Cornell Soil Health Training Manual, which continues to be of great value and in high demand. The new edition contains new chapters on the revised scoring functions and a step-by-step approach on how to use the soil health report to design a practical and sustainable soil management program to address the identified soil constraints.

Performance Target:

• Of the 1500 growers that will be reached in New York, Vermont and Maryland; 200 will have their soils assessed using the developed soil health protocol in New York and Maryland, and 100 growers will implement a long-term improved and sustainable soil management program (including reduced tillage system(s), improved crop rotation(s), new cover crops and/or compost and green manure applications). [Gone beyond it].

• A web-accessible database of regional soil health data will be made available for researchers and extension educators to conduct query-based research and data analysis. [Achieved it, with research collaborators].

• Decision support software will be developed to aid in: (i) determining an optimal site-specific set of soil physical, chemical and biological parameters to test, (ii) interpreting the results obtained and, (iii) providing guidelines on needed interventions. [Achieved it in principal: We are offering testing in packages, and for researchers on “a la carte” basis, (see website). We have posted the guidelines for report interpretations and suggestions for remediation of constraints, and a step by step process for management decisions on our website and in publications. However, we have determined that a software package is not necessary for this purpose at this point. Indicators, which represent agronomically essential soil processes, are relevant to all agricultural sites, with the exception of PMN and Root Health Bioassay, thus they are offered as part of a comprehensive package. Management decision needs to be a more interactive process that can incorporate individual grower opportunities does not appears to lent itself to a software approach at the present].

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jean-Paul Courtens
  • Heather Darby
  • Anita Deming
  • Lynn Fish
  • Steve Groff
  • Beth Gugino
  • John Idowu
  • Carol MacNeil
  • Molly Shaw
  • Janice Thies
  • Ray Weil
  • David Wolfe
  • Harold van Es

Research

Materials and methods:

The extensive soil health outreach activities presented in New York, Maryland and Vermont varied in style and content including the classroom lecture presentations, formal grower conference sessions, informal demonstrations and discussions at field days, commercial farm visits, grower’s interactive small group discussions, and the day-long or week-long train-the-trainers workshops. To give an example, a soil health train-the-trainer workshop was presented by our soil health team during August 9-14, 2009. Thirty-four participants from a cross the northeast region, the USA and abroad attended this week-long workshop. This intensive workshop included classroom training on the emerging concept of soil health, hands-on laboratory experience in assessment protocols, field assessment of soil health measurements, generating the soil health report and its interpretation, and a field visit to local farms to observe and discuss adopted soil health practices and results to-date. Additional information on offered workshops and other outreach activities can be found at our website (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu), the publication section of this report and the various attachments.

Several long-term and replicated soil health research sites were maintained and sampled annually by our team in order to understand the impact of production practices (cover cropping, reduced tillage systems and others) and their various combinations on soil health status and the measured indicators. An example of such a site is the long-term soil health site at the Gates Farm, NYSAES near Geneva, NY. This research site is approximately14 acres divided into 72 plots (18 treatments with 4 replications) (Appendix C, Map). The treatments are represented by three tillage systems (no-till/ridge-till, zone-till, and plow/conventional-till), three cover crops (no cover, rye grain, and vetch), and two crop rotations. One rotation include primarily high-value vegetable crops (bean, beet, sweet corn, cabbage, bean, bean, and peas from 2003 through 2009), whereas the other rotation includes season long soil-building crops (bean, field corn, oat/sweetclover, sweet corn, bean, field corn, and barley/sweet corn from 2003 through 2009). At present, the no-till tillage system is converted to a ridge-till system whenever the plots are planted to a direct seeded vegetable crop. Each spring and before soil disturbance, soil samples are collected from all the plots and analyzed according to the Cornell soil health assessment protocol as well as collecting data on pest pressure and yield parameters of the planted crops. The attached Soil Health Training Manual (Appendix C) describes and illustrates the specific methodologies and how the data are treated and used.

Research results and discussion:

Milestone 1: Identification of participating growers and sites to be sampled in Vermont, Maryland, New York, and possibly other states.

• Large number of participating growers in NY, VT, and MD and also a few in each of PA, CT, MA, NJ and RI (Appendix A, Stakeholders list) submitted 811 soil samples (one composite sample/field, production unit) for soil health analysis during the duration of this project. Samples were analyzed using the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Protocol developed by our team. However, our soil health team received and processed a total of 2,450 soil samples for soil health analyses during the duration of this project. All the samples were processed in the “Proto-type” Soil Health Laboratory established on the Cornell Campus in Ithaca. We are continuing to offer soil health testing on a fee-for-service basis, but we are hoping to pass on this service to an established soil laboratory in 2011. Through the illustrated soil health reports sent back to participating growers and the numerous educational outreach activities, we have promoted a holistic and sustainable approach to soil management that will contribute to environmental conservation.

Milestone 2: Finalization of the recommended soil health assessment protocol and uniform sampling procedures to be used in the Northeast region.

• The Cornell Soil Health Test is now standardized, widely used, and accepted by growers as a tool for the holistic and long-term soil management of their fields. The attached recently completed second edition of the Cornell Soil Health Training Manual (Appendix C, Resources), which is also posted on our website, describes in detail the sampling, assessment methodologies, scoring functions, and the interpretation of the auto-generated report and the suggested management options for the identified constraints. During the duration of this project, our team added soil texture analysis (fraction of sand, silt and clay) to the soil health indicators measured. The latter became necessary to include as that the interpretations of the measured indicators in the reports need to take soil texture into consideration. The team also modified the scoring functions for rating the various measured soil health indicators based on the accumulated soil health dataset from the region. Finally, the team prepared a new chapter in the second edition of the manual that describes a step-by-step approach in utilizing the soil health report in designing an appropriate soil management program for the identified soil constraints. Briefly, the recommended soil sampling protocol consisted of making five sampling stops per field/production unit and collecting paired soil sub-samples at each location along with two penetrometer readings recorded at two depths. Thus one soil sample (approx. 2 L) consists of 10 bulk soil sub-samples and one completed grower and sample information sheet with the field measured penetrometer readings. The soil indicators measured in the Cornell Soil Health Test are: aggregate stability, available water capacity, surface and subsurface hardness, organic matter, active carbon, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, root health assessment, the standard chemical nutrient analysis, and soil texture. The results of our soil health assessment are presented in the auto-generated Cornell Soil Health Test Report that shows the actual laboratory values and interpretations/ratings of the measured indicators, highlighting soil constraints that are limiting from both agronomic and environmental perspectives. The test reports were sent to respective growers and county educators and/or crop consultants. The growers’ reports were often used as a focal point in our various outreach activities.

Milestone 3: Processing of the collected soil samples in the region at Cornell and holding joint meetings to discuss the results ending with a consensus on the interpretation and recommended guidelines for appropriate interventions.

• All the collected soil samples from participating growers in NY, MD, VT and other NE states (811) under this project, as well as others received over the past three years (total of 2,450) were processed at Cornell according to the developed soil health assessment protocol. Team members have met through telephone conferences, participated jointly in special grower’s meetings or field days, thus they often discussed the results of the processed samples, their interpretations, suggested potential soil management practices, and outreach plans and needs in the region. The results of the processed samples obtained during the duration of this project have significantly expanded and improved the soil health database that was established in 2003. Our team has used this valuable resource to fine tune the scoring functions for the measured soil health indicators and query the data on the impact of selected management practices such as the crop production systems (vegetable, cash grain and corn silage). For example, we have learned from the data that root health, active carbon, and potential mineralizable nitrogen levels are best (highest) in the corn silage production system (due to heavy manure applications) and worst in the vegetable production system, which tends to be much more intensive (Figure 1, Appendix C).

Milestone 4: Organization of annual field days and soil health training sessions for growers, CCA and extension educators in each participating state.

• Our team offered more than 53 grower’s meetings, field days, special training and demonstration sessions as well as in-depth and hands-on workshops in New York, Maryland, Vermont and other states in the NE region. Our records show that more than 2,550 participants attended these diverse sessions (Appendix B). We have received complementary feedback (Appendix E) and 100% of respondents to our short survey conducted after a number of the educational sessions indicated that they benefited and increased their knowledge and awareness of the soil health concept, soil constraints, and practical soil management practices as well as their plan to use the information in their programs and/or implement soil health practices on their farms. Many of the participants have a copy of the Cornell Soil health Training Manual (Appendix C) and are using it as a resource of information and in designing their on-farm program for managing soil health constraints.

Milestone 5: A multi-state annual conference on soil health hosted by one of the cooperating states for improved networking and coordinated soil health outreach.

• Team collaborators in Maryland and Vermont participated as presenters at the Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse, New York where an afternoon-long Soil Health Session has been held for the past 3 years and members of the New York team have participated in several field days and growers meetings held by collaborators in Vermont and Maryland. These involvements were very effective in coordinating our outreach activities, reached additional target audiences and contributed to exchange of ideas and brainstorming on the specific work plans of the project and soil health issues in general. In addition, our team collaborated on holding soil health training sessions in other states in the region including Pennsylvania, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rode Island.

Milestone 6: Development of private-sector services for soil health assessment on a fee basis.

• Since 2007, we have demonstrated by the number of soil samples submitted the interest, need and utility of the Cornell Soil Health Test been offered on a fee-for-service basis. The Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual was initially released in February 2007 and was revised in late 2009. The manual is freely accessible on the Cornell Soil Health website (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu) and can be downloaded as one file or as individual chapters. Our team at Cornell has been working on transitioning this much needed soil health assessment service to a dependable private soil laboratory in the region. Currently, have identified two private laboratories that are interested and engaged in discussions with us on how to incorporate the Cornell Soil Health test as part of their services, possibly for the 2011 growing season. In addition, several representatives of other privately owned laboratories have attended our soil health training workshops, thus we anticipate that there will be increased interest in the near future. We will make sure that a soil health testing by a private laboratory is fully operational before we terminate our on-going soil health testing at Cornell.

Milestone 7: Development of a web-accessible database for the regional sharing of information relevant to soil health.

• We have revised and updated our soil health website (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu), which continues to be of high usage as a resource on various soil health issues including the concept, assessment protocols, diverse management scenarios, and offered training activities. The accumulated basic soil health dataset is available as a database, not online (due to grower privacy infringement issues), but in excel format, for use by collaborators. Ithas been utilized in the interpretations of the generated soil health reports, improving the scoring functions used in rating the measured soil health indicators, and in querying the data on the impact of individual or combined management practices on soil health status and/or productivity (Figure 1, Appendix C). We have presented soil health information on different management scenarios and soil types that are captured in our database of soil measurements.

Milestone 8: Development of software and a web-based user interface for determining what soil health parameters to evaluate and for the interpretation of results and guidelines of solutions.

• We are now offering different soil health testing packages (see our website) at different prices for growers and land managers to select from. These can be chosen by the customer based on the identified specific needs and soil/farm histories. We have also posted additional information on our website on the interpretation of the soil health report and how to (step-by-step) design a practical soil management program to address the constraints identified in the soil health report. We have provided information and training sessions on specific soil health constraints as they are impacted by various production systems, soil types and management practices in general. However, we have not completed the development and validation of a software as a decision support system that is user-friendly.

Milestone 9: Determining the mechanism(s) contributing to soil health improvement by implementing promoted soil management practices.

• Several replicated research and on-farm trials dealing with the impact of tillage, cover crops and crop rotations were conducted in NY, MD, and VT to understand how soil health is affected by such management practices. In Maryland, a cover crop experiment measured the effects of forage radish and winter rye cover crops on mycorrhizal fungi, active carbon, aggregate stability, and available phosphorus and a compaction experiment measured the ability of different cover crops to alleviate soil hardness. Results from the cover crop experiment showed that the winter rye cover crop increased mycorrhizal colonization of the following corn crop, while the forage radish cover crop had no effect on mycorrhizal colonization compared to growing no cover crop at all. After two years of cover cropping, the rye and forage radish cover crops both increased active carbon and aggregate stability. Both forage radish and rye increased available phosphorus as well. The compaction experiment showed that the forage radish cover crop has a better ability to penetrate compacted soil layers than a winter rye cover crop, and that roots of a corn crop were more abundant in the deeper layers of a compacted soil following a forage radish cover crop than following either winter rye or no cover crop. In the on-farm experiments, a forage radish cover crop almost completely eliminated run-off and erosion during medium intensity rainstorms in February and March 2008 compared to both a winter rye cover crop and no cover crop (MD report, Appendix C). This effect was due to improved infiltration by the large radish root holes that remain in the soil following the cover crop’s winter decay. Furthermore, the very light residue cover left in spring after a forage radish cover crop creates a warmer and drier seedbed than other high residue cover crops such as winter rye, allowing for earlier planting dates.

• In NY, the team collaborated on maintaining and sampling the long-term soil health research and demonstration site at the Gates Farm, NYSAES, near Geneva, NY. This soil health experiment is about 14 acres divided into 72 plots (8 treatments with 4 replications). The treatments are represented by three tillage systems (no-till/ridge-till, zone-till, and plow/conventional-till systems), three cover crops (no cover, rye grain, and vetch) and two crop rotations. One rotation includes high value vegetable crops (bean, beet, sweet corn, cabbage, bean, bean, and peas from 2003 through 2009), whereas the second rotation includes season long soil building crops (bean, field corn, oats/sweet clover, sweet corn, bean, field corn, and barley/sweet clover from 2003 through 2009). At present, the no-till tillage is converted to a ridge-till system whenever the plots are planted to a direct seeded vegetable crop. From the statistical analysis of the Gates Farm experiment, several soil health indicators showed significant differences with tillage and cover crop treatments especially under the continuous vegetable rotation (Table 1, Appendix C). The overall Cornell Soil Health Index was significant for tillage treatment in the continuous vegetable rotation with reduced tillage systems generally having better soil health than the plow-till systems. Indicators showing significant differences include wet aggregate stability, active carbon, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and zinc (Table 1, Map, and Report; appendix C). Generally, the zone-till system tends to be better for soil health improvement than the plow-till system. In another test in NY, significant differences in snap bean yield were observed in 2007 in the IPM systems comparison trial, NYSAES, Geneva, NY. Total plant and pod weight were highest in the IPM future plots that were managed using scouting and thresholds for pest management as well as using cover crops and season-long soil building crops in the rotation compared to the IPM present (no season-long building crops in the rotation), conventional and organically managed plots. Yields were lowest in the organically managed plot due to poor stand establishment. We published the results of a study on the effects on soil health of long-term tillage (plow till vs. no till) and stover-harvest (silage vs. grain) in Chazy, NY (Moebius-Clune et al., 2008). We used an expanded set of twenty-five soil health indicators, including standard chemical soil tests, aggregate stability, bulk density, several porosity indicators (aeration pores, air-filled pores at field capacity, available water capacity), total organic matter (OM), nematode populations, decomposition rate, and potentially mineralizable N among others. Only eight indicators were adversely affected by stover harvest, and most of these effects were significant only under NT. Almost all indicators affected by stover removal were affected equally or more adversely by tillage. A total of 15 indicators were adversely affected by tillage. Results of this study suggest that, on a silt loam soil in a temperate climate, long-term stover harvest had lower adverse impacts on soil quality than long-term tillage. Stover harvest for such purposes as biofuel production thus appears to be sustainable when practiced under NT management in this type of scenario.
• Preliminary results of tests conducted at Cornell indicated that some soil indicators are well predicted by visible near infra-red (VNIR) spectroscopy method, while others are not. Organic matter and active carbon showed high predictability (r = 0.89). However, soil physical (e.g. surface and subsurface hardness) and biological properties (e.g. potentially mineralizable N) were poorly predicted. Several other properties showed reasonable predictability, probably due to their correlation to well predicted indicators such as organic matter content. More research is warranted to refine and analyze the data collected using VNIR to assess soil health indicators before this technique can be recommended.

Milestone 10: Documenting the number of growers that have benefited from the project and the number that have implemented long-term soil management strategies (project target is 100+).

• The numerous and successful educational activities on various soil health issues presented by our team have reached more than 2,550 growers and other beneficiaries. As a results of the great interest generated through these outreach activities, growers in NY, MD, VT and other states in the NE region submitted 811 soil samples for their soil health assessment and our team processed a total of 2,450 samples during the duration of this project. The returned soil health reports and the numerous educational programs presented have greatly assisted the target audiences in their knowledge of soil health issues, major soil health constraints and available management options for addressing identified constraints. In 2006, our soil health team conducted an extensive survey mailed to 1000 growers to document changes in soil health knowledge and in soil management practices as a result of the outreach activities presented by our team until that time. Soil quality problems most cited by the 173 growers who returned a completed survey included soilborne diseases, insects and weeds; soil ponding and crusting resulting from compaction; and low water holding capacity that leads to drought sensitive soils. Of those who had attended either one or more field days, workshops or team meetings (n=59), 93% indicated that participating had improved their knowledge and understanding of soil health and its management. In addition, 71% indicated that they made changes in their use of cover crops, crop rotation and/or organic amendments on the farm. Also, 42% indicated they had reduced the frequency and/or the intensity of tillage.

• In summer 2009, 60 survey questionnaires were mailed to growers that participated in the soil health testing offered by our soil health team. Twenty-four survey questionnaires were completed and returned to us. Ninety-six percent of respondents to our soil health survey stated that the soil health report was helpful and 92% indicated that the report assisted them in identifying critical soil health constraints on their farms. In addition, 63% of the respondents thought that they have already noticed an improvement in their operation and/or farm profitability. Most interesting, 5, 35, 25, and 10 % of respondents suggested that they estimate observing an increase in productivity of the targeted field/soil of 0-5, 5-10, 10-20 and 20-30%, respectively as a result of modifying their soil management practices to address identified constraints in the soil health report.

• As a follow-up, our team (Carol MacNeil, Harold van Es, Bob Schiendelbeck, Bianca Moebius-Clune and George Abawi) met (October 16, 2009 from 6:00 – 9:30 PM in Barton Laboratory, NYSAES, Geneva, NY) with 4 participating growers (Donn Branton, Klaas Martens, Rick Pedersen, and Kurt Forman) to discuss their specific observations and assessment of the soil health outreach, testing, and promoted management practices. Carol MacNeil also had contacted George Ayers (participating grower) before the meeting, thus she was able to share his experience and comments with the group. In addition, Molly Shaw (extension educator and soil health team member) contacted and discussed the project evaluation with two other participating growers in her region (Tom Giles and John Johnson). The feedbacks, comments and suggestions of these discussions were in general agreement to what we have learned from the mailed questionnaire. All growers were supportive and have contributed themselves to the outreach activities of the project. They value the soil health testing as a “window into their soils” and all have modified their practices or considering of doing so as a result of the soil health testing and/or increased knowledge of soil management needs. Soil practices that they have been modified included tillage systems, cover cropping, and/or crop rotation. All have observed or anticipate a number of benefits (improved yield, reduce fertilizer use, drier soils in the spring, etc.), but it was hard to quantify the value of such benefits at this early time. One grower indicated that improvement had ranged from 0 -100%, depending on the targeted field, previous history and other factors. Another indicated a yield improvement in the range of 20%, yet another grower thought it is too early to give an educated guess at this time. However, considerable information and specific experiences were exchanged during these discussions as well as many excellent suggestions were made for improving the soil health report, additional research areas on soil indicators to be considered and a request for a clearer demonstration of improvement in measured indicators to crop productivity. For example, it was suggested that soil health testing should be done at the same time in the crop rotation, as the previous crop may have a significant effect. There was also an interest to compare crop farm to crop farm and to separate farms with livestock as well as to consider the soil type, if possible. Another suggestion made was to consider using earth warm numbers or their holes as a component of the soil health testing. Also, there was a great interest by all the growers to quantify the effect of cover crops on various soil health indicators in order to make a better cover crop selection for addressing the specific soil constraint in the target field/farm. In addition, there was a great interest to have the option of requesting specific soil health indicator testing (a la cart testing) in order to reducing the cost of testing by focusing on specific farm constraints/measurements of interest. Again, all the shared discussion points and experience by collaborating growers suggest their increased interest and support for additional efforts on soil health assessment and management.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Idowu, O.J., van Es, H.M., Abawi, G.S., Wolfe, D.W., Schindelbeck, R.R., Moebius-Clune, B.N. and Gugino, B.K. 2009. Use of an integrative soil health test for evaluation of soil management impacts. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 24:214-224.

Gugino, B.K., O.J. Idowu, R.R. Schindelbeck, H.M. van Es, B.N. Moebius-Clune, D.W. Wolfe, J.E. Thies, and G.S. Abawi. 2009. Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual, Edition 2.0. Cornell University, Geneva, NY 14456. 59 pp. Available at http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu.

Schindelbeck, R.R., H.M.v. Es, G.S. Abawi, D.W. Wolfe, T.L. Whitlow, B.K. Gugino, O.J. Idowu, and B.N. Moebius-Clune. 2008. Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Quality for Landscape and Urban Management. Landscape and Urban Planning 88:73-80.

Moebius-Clune, B.N., H.M. van Es, J.O. Idowu, R.R. Schindelbeck, D.J. Moebius-Clune, D.W. Wolfe, G.S. Abawi, J.E. Thies, B.K. Gugino, and R. Lucey. 2008. Long-Term Effects of Harvesting Maize Stover and Tillage on Soil Quality. Soil Science Society of America Journal 72:960-969.

Idowu, O.J., H.M. van Es, G.S. Abawi, D.W. Wolfe, J.I. Ball, B.K. Gugino, B.N. Moebius, R.R. Schindelbeck, and A.V. Bilgili. 2007. Farmer-Oriented Assessment of Soil Quality using Field, Laboratory, and VNIR Spectroscopy Methods. Plant and Soil 307:243-253.

Moebius, B.N., H.M. van Es, R.R. Schindelbeck, O.J. Idowu, J.E. Thies, and D.J. Clune. 2007. Evaluation of Laboratory-Measured Soil Properties as Indicators of Soil Physical Quality. Soil Science 172:895-912.

Abawi, G. S., J. W. Ludwig, and B. K. Gugino. 2009. Results of the long-term tillage, rotation, and cover crop trial at the Gates Farm. Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo Proceedings, Cornell Coop. Extension, pp. 128 – 130.

Robert Schindelbeck, John Idowu, Harold van Es, George Abawi, David Wolfe, Beth Gugino. 2008. How to Interpret and Use the Cornell Soil Health Test Report What’s Cropping Up? 18, (1) 1- 4.

Abawi, G. S., B. K. Gugino, and J. W/ Ludwig. 2008. Cropping sequence and root health. Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo Proceedings, Cornell Coop. Extension, pp. 65 – 68.

Gugino, B. K., and G. S. Abawi. 2008. Assessing fungal and nematode root pathogens with visual on-farm soil bioassays. Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo Proceedings, Cornell Coop. Extension, pp. 68 – 71.

Abawi, G. S., B. K. Gugino, J. W. Ludwig, and C. Petzoldt. 2008. Vegetable management systems: Soil health assessment and the effect on snap bean yield and soil fungal pathogen community. NYS IPM Publication No. 506: 204 – 208.

Schindelbeck, R., J. Idowu, H. van Es, G. Abawi, D. Wolfe, and B. Gugino. 2008. How to interpret and use the Cornell soil health test (CSHT) report. What’s Cropping Up Vol. 18, No 1.; http://css.cals.cornell.edu/css/extension/upload/interpreting_the_report.pdf.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

Collaborating soil health team members in New York, Maryland and Vermont have conducted numerous soil health educational and training programs (>53) that reached in excess of 2,550 stakeholders throughout the NE region. Growers in New York, Vermont, Maryland and other states in the region submitted 811 soil samples for soil health assessment (total of 2,450 soil samples processed during the project duration) using the new Cornell Soil Health Test. The auto-generated Cornell Soil Health Test Reports were provided to participating growers and their respective extension educators and/or private consultants together with general guidelines to address identified soil health constraints. In 2009, the Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu) was also revised and released as an educational tool and a resource describing the general aspects of soil health management and the new Cornell Soil Health Test. Our team is very pleased with the positive feedback that we continue to receive from all participants regarding the benefits and use of information and demonstration offered by our outreach programs. In a targeted survey, 92% and 63% of participants were benefited and have already observed improvement on their farms, respectively as a result of modifications in their soil management practices (cover crops, rotation, reduced tillage, and/or manure addition), which were confirmed by direct discussions with 7 participating growers. Thus, our team and project outcomes have greatly increased the awareness and knowledge of soil health constraints and their sustainable management. The latter will contribute greatly to increased soil productivity, farm profitability and environmental quality. NRCS-VT and in other areas too has added a soil health standard to the environmental Quality Incentive program and is offering all farms the option to have the Cornell Soil health Tests conducted on up to 10 fields per farm at cost shares at 100%. In addition, our team continues several research projects dealing with understanding how specific soil management practices impact soil health indicators and productivity in general. For example, results obtained in Maryland have documented that forage radish cover crop almost eliminated runoff and erosion during medium intensity rainstorm and roots of the following corn crop were more abundant in the deeper layers of compacted soil. In another test, winter rye increased mycorrhizal colonization of the following corn crop and also increased available phosphorus, active carbon, and aggregate stability of the soil. In New York, reduced tillage systems improved the values of measured soil health indicators, such as aggregate stability, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, and several nutrients (phosphorus, potassium, and zinc). Finally, our team members have completed the publication of numerous informal and formal publications on various soil health issues and has revised and expanded the offerings on the soil health website at Cornell (http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu).

Economic Analysis

The design and implementation of whole-farm and long-term soil health management program will undoubtedly improve soil productivity/function, stabilize and increase crop yields, thus contributing significantly to increase farm profitability and also environmental quality. Because soil health dynamics are complex and changes in soil health require long-term management before significant changes can be measured, further research will be required to document the economic impact of sustainable and whole-farm management of soil health.

Farmer Adoption

We are pleased to report that the majority of growers that attended our outreach programs or participated in the soil health testing report that they have made changes and implemented practices (cover crops, crop rotation, reduced tillage and/or organic amendments) on their farm. In addition, several extension educators and other agricultural service providers that attended our workshops and field days have used the information in their outreach efforts and we have even provided assistance to a number of them in their efforts. Also, please refer to the sections above of this report.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

We need to continue working on the development of a software with a web-based user interface and make the voluminous soil health dataset available to all those interested. In addition, we need to continue the maintenance and sampling of our long-term soil health sites and also to continue offering the various soil health outreach programs and specially train-the-trainers workshops (we have scheduled one-day workshop for March 24, 2010 and 5-days workshop for August 15-19, 2010). Because soil health dynamics are complex and changes in soil health require long-term management before significant changes can be measured, further research will be required to document the economic impacts of sustainable soil health management, with relation to yield, environmental impacts, carbon sequestration, and net-farm-profits.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.