Most Midwest grain (corn and soybean) farmers value the importance and role of soil health for sustainable agriculture, however lack the tools and knowledge to test and interpret indicators of soil health. Currently available commercial soil health test reports seldom provide practical recommendations for improving and/or maintaining on-farm soil health. Thus, farmers are left to their own intuition for interpretation and adoption of good soil health practices. We have formed partnerships with soil scientists and farmers to conduct on-farm monitoring of soil health, identify consistent and reliable soil health indicators, and develop practical management recommendations matrix based on soil health test results. We will disseminate the information and outcomes from this work at two workshops, and two field days hosted by participating farmers. Educational materials including extension factsheets, agronomy reports, and peer reviewed publications will be developed and made available through OSU Extension. The project will benefit a broader group of farmers and educators by providing a matrix of regionally valid, sensitive, reliable indicators for soil health testing, interpretation, and practical recommendations. The outcomes will translate into better decision making, reduction of unnecessary soil testing expenses for farmers, and also input costs savings to farmers in the North-central region.
Eight field research sites on 4 different farms will be selected to represent a range of soils, climate, crop rotations, and management practices. Objectives will be to:
- Monitor relevant soil health parameters, agronomic factors and yields at 8 research sites
- Develop a list of preferred indicators for rapid to comprehensive soil health testing that is most suitable for the region
- Develop interpretations and practical recommendations based on soil health testing and long-term research
- Conduct outreach with field days, agronomy reports, extension factsheets, and conference presentations
Soil health samples were collected from participating farms. Soil samples represented grain crop management systems common in Ohio and the Midwest: tillage, no-tillage, alfalfa hay, organic grain crops, cover crops, and manure. Grain crops grown include: corn, soybean, wheat, oats, alfalfa. Infield measurements were taken: soil temperature, soil moisture, infiltration, and penetrometer. Duplicate soil samples were collected for soil health laboratory analysis by Ward Labs, A & L labs, and Ohio State South Centers lab.
Comparison of Soil Health Measurements and Soil Conservation Practices
There is a need to understand the correlation between soil health measurements and their accuracy to determine effects of soil conservation practices. Research conducted in Ohio compared the following soil practices: 1. No-till grass sod (Festuca spp), 2. Tillage with less than 30% crop residue on corn/soybean crop production, 3. No-till corn/soybean crop production with multi-species cover crop. Soil samples were analyzed for the following soil health measurements: Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA), soil respiration, active carbon, and nitrate nitrogen. Results for no-till sod were; 4710 ng/g PLFA, 42.9 ppm C respiration, 1112 lb/acre active carbon, 7.0 ppm nitrate. Results for no-till crop production with cover crops were; 5237 ng/g PLFA, 41.6 ppm C respiration, 1181 lb/acre active carbon, 9.7 ppm nitrate. Results for tillage crop production were; 1490 ng/g PLFA, 19.8 C respiration, 304 lb/acre active carbon, 5.7 ppm nitrate. Measurements correlated well between the various testing methods. The no-till sod and the no-till crop production with cover crops had similar soil health measurements, which were significantly higher compared to tillage crop production.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Various outreach has occurred in 2018. Soil health measurements have been presented at winter Agronomy Schools, workshops, and field days. Outreach articles in the www.CORN.osu.edu newsletter occurred on December 18, April 17 and April 3, 2018. This reached over 2,000 farmers and ag professionals in Ohio and beyond. The farm science review soil health exhibit and demonstrations reached over 300 attendees. The website – www.soilhealth.osu.edu has also been used by hundreds of people.
upcoming presentations at winter workshops and Agronomy days, newsletter articles upcoming,