Impact of management practices on soil health in organic grain systems
Recently, interest in soil health has increased among farmers and researchers alike due to its association with enhanced crop productivity (yields) through enhanced biological nutrient cycling. However, there is much discussion on how to best assess soil health on farms and understand the management practices that affect it, especially its biological aspects.
Currently, we are collaborating with 16 certified organic grain farms in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin to develop recommendations for best management practices (BMPs) for soil health as well as assess the capacity of the latest promising measurements to evaluate the biological aspects of soil health on farms. By utilizing the diverse management histories of their 46 fields while accounting for differences in inherent soil properties (including soil texture, pH, and drainage class), we will determine which management practices have the greatest impact on biological aspects of soil health and disseminate this information to our collaborators, other farmers and stakeholders through field days, Extension events, conferences, and at least one peer-reviewed publication. Biological nutrient cycling will be measured via autoclave citrate extractable (ACE) protein, potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN), potentially mineralizable carbon (PMC), and permanganate oxidizable carbon (POxC) from soils of each agricultural field. These are the leading measurements for assessing soil health as they are quick, affordable, sensitive to management practice changes, and recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Additional resources provided through a SARE-grant would allow us to build a more powerful dataset to evaluate BMPs through expansion of our sampling efforts to more farms and fields within the same region. Through increasing our sampling effort, we will obtain more observations and measurements of the diverse management practices that are occurring on organic grain farms to develop well-supported recommendations to farmers and other stakeholders. These findings will be disseminated to our collaborators, other farmers and stakeholders through field days, Extension events, conferences, and at least one peer-reviewed publication. Evaluation of the research’s impact on farmer knowledge and adoption will be executed through surveys prior to and after field days.
Project objectives from proposal:
The expected learning outcomes for this research are as follows: 1) researchers will learn which management practices and inherent soil properties contribute the most to biological aspects of soil health on organic grain farms; 2) researchers will learn whether the duration cropland has been in certified organic management has an effect on biological aspects of soil health; 3) farmers will have increased knowledge of the current measurements for the biological component of soil health and best management practices for improving this component of their soil’s health. The expected action outcomes are that: 1) farmers will incorporate identified best management practices for soil health in their operations; 2) farmers that incorporate such practices will improve biological aspects of soil health, which may result in long-term crop productivity and ecosystem services.