Assessment of Soil Biology and Plant Available Nitrogen for Soil Health and Water Quality

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $49,690.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2018
Grant Recipient: CAFES Center for Sustainability
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Hunter Francis
CAFES Center for Sustainability

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: pasture fertility, range improvement
  • Crop Production: biological inoculants
  • Education and Training: demonstration, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization, carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: composting, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health


    Soils are at the forefront of many exciting discussions currently happening within agriculture. The concept of soil health is adding to our understanding of soil in agricultural systems and to traditional understandings of soil quality. This project provides education on soils, soil biota and organic matter to help illustrate techniques useful for assessing soil biology and its relation to soil health. New assessment methods were explored, which are increasing general understanding of these important aspects of soil health and how that understanding can be used better to manage soil organic matter, nitrogen, crops and water quality – often to the economic benefit of producers and to environmental benefit for us all. The project engaged a wide cross-section of stakeholders to develop both live and web-based training and resources, including hands-on field workshops for professionals on soil health, with a specific focus on new, practical methods to assess soil biological activity and nutrient mineralization.

    Project objectives:

    Overall objectives of this project included:

    1) Provide training to agricultural and other professionals on the assessment of soil biology and plant nutrients;

    2) Equip professionals with data-driven solutions for pressing soil and water challenges;

    3) Expand the “toolbox” of professionals by providing them with information and hands-on training;

    4) Provide a comprehensive overview of how soil biology and organic matter, as well as to other physio-chemical parameters, relate to soil health;

    5) Put a special focus on how carbon and nitrogen cycle in soils, and how soil organic matter content relates to the mineralization of plant available nitrogen;

    6) Promote understanding of the role and value of organic nitrogen and its relation to inorganic nitrogen;

    7) Provide basic training on how to create/manage nutrient budgets and promote methods for increasing soil organic matter and building beneficial soil biology;

    8) Discuss the relevance of educational materials developed to other pertinent fields, such as biological amendments, composting and carbon sequestration; and,

    9) Leverage alumni and industry supporters to disseminate project deliverables and results.

    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.