Building Sustainable Soil Systems
This past year the Southern SARE recently funded a Professional Development Program (PDP) training opportunity for extension educators and other agricultural professionals across North Carolina. The project is entitled “Building Sustainable Soils”.
The following objective will be learn upon taking the course:
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.
Upon completion of the course, we expect the agents to achieve the following accomplishment/outcomes:
1) Agricultural educators will promote cover crops and reduced tillage as best management practices for maintaining soil productivity.
2) Growers will become aware of and understand the importance of soil organic carbon to long-term crop and soil productivity and adopt practices that contribute to carbon and nitrogen cycling in soils.
3) Soil managers will reduce reliance on management of the chemical properties of soils (i.e. proper soil pH and “nutrient sufficiency”) to promote maximum crop yields, and implement management practices that positively impact soil physical and biological parameters.
4) Reduced erosion and non-point source pollution of surface waters through will result as growers increase use of cover crops, decrease tillage, and improve residue management.
5) Reduced soil erosion and consequent improvements to water quality will increase the recreational opportunities (fishing, swimming, boating) for rural North Carolinians, as well increase their visibility as environmental stewards of natural resources
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
So far this year the PDP training team has met for two sessions in Goldsboro, NC. We are in the process of setting up two more meetings over the next two months to finish our training. There are 14 agents now enrolled in our training course in eastern NC. We have covered Basics of Soil Management practices, Carbon Cycling and Soil Organic Matter Management, Natural Resource Policies, Soil Biology and the Soil Food Web, Soil Quality, Nutrient Cycling, NLEW and PLAT, Fundamentals of Soil Erosion and Compost Processing/Utilization.