Building Sustainable Soil Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $119,848.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, cotton, millet, oats, peanuts, potatoes, rapeseed, rye, soybeans, sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), grapes, melons, peaches, pears, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes
  • Additional Plants: tobacco, native plants
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, swine


  • Animal Production: manure management, pasture fertility, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, competition, compost extracts, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, prevention, smother crops, soil solarization, trap crops, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Participants learn how to develop an integrated approach to soils management for sustainable farming systems and to educate growers about those practices. The field training sites had farm-scale composting, cover cropping, tillage, rotation, soil quality, and fertility demonstrations for subsequent participant training sessions. Training sessions was held in western NC in the winter/spring of 2003/2004 and then repeated in eastern NC in the winter/spring of 2004/2005. Four, two day sessions was held in each instance to address subject matter fore mentioned.

    Project objectives:

    1) Participants will learn the importance of soil quality and management practices to improve it. Particular emphasis will be given to the impacts of organic matter on soil physical, chemical, and biological parameters. Participants will develop a power-point presentation on soil quality relevant to and for use in county programming.
    2) Participants will learn about nutrient cycling, how to construct a nutrient budget for a crop, and how to synchronize nutrient mineralization from organic amendments and residues with crop nutrient requirements. They will use the nutrient management decision aid programs “NLEW” (Nutrient Loss Estimation Work Sheet) and “PLAT” (Phosphorus Loss Assessment Tool) in county educational programs.
    3) Participants will learn the advantages and disadvantages of conservation tillage and how to match conservation tillage strategies with particular crops, soils, and other regional conditions. Participants will use the soil quality kit to demonstrate the impacts of different soil tillage strategies on soil physical (bulk density, aggregate stability, strength) and microbiological (respiration) properties.
    4) Participants will become familiar with the soil food web and soil microbial processes that affect plant growth. They will sample local soils managed with and without organic inputs, send samples to a soil biology laboratory for analysis, interpret laboratory results, and write an extension newsletter article reporting findings and soil biology concepts to clientele.
    5) Participants will become familiar with cover crops and cover cropping strategies. They will develop rotational cropping strategies that include use of winter and summer cover crops and demonstrate those rotations in their counties.
    6) Participants will learn how to create an integrated soil management plan for a diversified farming operation and will use that knowledge to develop plans with two growers.

    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.