Assessing Agricultural Soil Health and Sustainability of Different Management Practices Using Profiles of Bacterial Communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,912.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Grant Recipient: The Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Warren Dick
The Ohio State University-OARDC

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, potatoes, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, manure management
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: general soil management
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable agriculture is one of the most controversial topics in agriculture. Critics can claim that we don’t know what sustainability really means, but still I know that sustainable agriculture is badly needed around the globe, with problems of soil degradation and environment quality. Existing knowledge about soil health, one important aspect of sustainable agriculture, includes measuring soil quality in respect to physico-chemical properties. However, soil is now widely accepted as a dynamic living entity. Therefore it is important to monitor soil health from the standpoint of the living organisms in soil. Soil being a complex system, with a range of microhabitats, supports microorganisms that interact among themselves and the environment to promote the activity of many key ecosystem functions. Several studies have reported that soil texture, structure and other properties impact microbial population and activity. With the help of molecular tools, studies can be conducted that measure bacterial community diversity. Higher diversity is generally considered to indicate better soil health. I propose to use such techniques as DNA melting and reassociation profiles to link bacterial community diversity with soil health from the standpoint of different management practices (i.e. intensive and organic). The outcome of this study will have far reaching results as farmers and growers will have a quantitative tool to correlate their management practices to soil health and shift their activities towards sustainability. This will improve soil health and ameliorate other related environmental problems such as eutrophication, erosion, and leaching of nutrients. It also is assumed that these practices will provide more net profit per dollar amount spent on farming. This will help in creating a better quality of life for the farmers, rural community and society as a whole. The evaluation of the project will be done by faculty review of the graduate dissertation, peer-review of journals, a seminar presentation and feedback from participating farmers. Results will also be shared with the organic farming research and education community of Ohio.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    My objective is to develop a quantitative assessment of soil health based on the biological component of a soil ecosystem. Present knowledge about the impact of different management practices on soil health is limited to quantifying the soil physical and chemical characteristics. However, since it is now widely acknowledged that soil is a dynamic living system, it is more accurate to use the biological components of soil as indicators for soil health. With the advent of new molecular techniques, tools are now available to delve into the aspects of soil biology instead of treating them as a “black box”. My findings will give farmers and growers a unique way to understand the impact of management practices on soil health and sustainability. A short-term outcome of this project would be to increase the knowledge among farmers and growers as to the correlation between their management practices and soil health (i.e. between soil biological community diversity and sustainable ecology and environment). In the intermediate range, the results would motivate farmers under intensive or conventional practices to change their way of farming, however small, for the betterment of their life, environment and society as a whole.

    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.