The Use of Nematodes and Enzyme Activities For On-Farm Soil Biological Health Tests
Soil degradation from intensive agricultural production can lead to many environmental issues, such as increased erosion, nutrient run-off, and crop disease. In addition, climate change will add to the environmental burden from agriculture as farmers adapt their agricultural practices to increased rainfall events and other climate change related phenomena. Enhancing soil health is a key strategy for farmers to maintain yields, reduce environmental issues, and adjust to climate change. Soil biological indicators can aid farmers in making comprehensive management decisions that can result in the improvement of soil health. Specifically, soil biological indicators map soil food webs and can therefore provide information on nutrient cycling and soil structure. Additionally, soil biological indicators are likely to be sensitive to changes in management practices, if this correlation was understood farmers could use this information to improve their soil health and therefore their productivity. Particularly, soil biological indicators of nematodes and enzyme activities can be used to provide farmers with a rapid assessment of the structure, enrichment, decomposition channel, disturbance, and nutrient cycling within a given cropping system. However, standard soil health tests currently do not utilize soil biological indicators to reflect soil food webs. Additionally, the sensitivity of nematode indices and enzyme activities to alterations in management practices has not been investigated. Thus, a knowledge base that may be able to inform farmer management decisions from these soil biological indicators will be created from the first part of this proposal. This project aims to provide famers with answers to their prolonged question of “how we can increase the number of organisms that we have in the soil?” or “how are my biologicals doing?” (Sprunger, 2015). The goals of this project areto: 1) Determine if nematode indices and soil enzymes can serve as useful soil health indicators through the development of a knowledge base using soil biological indicator samples taken from two long-term no-till sites and 30 selected Ohio farms 2) Quantify nematode indices and enzyme activities across farmer fields in Ohio 3) Conduct on-farm interviews to understand farmers interest in soil biological indicators and how they may help farmers adjust best management practice decisions. The outcomes of this project can provide Ohio farmers with soil health tests that will help inform management decisions and therefore, improve yield, reduce run-off, and aid in the adaption to climate change.
Project objectives from proposal:
This unique study will be the first to understand how long-term management practices of sustainable and conventional agriculture influence soil food webs. Particularly, soil biological indicators will be measured on two long-term no-till sites and 30 selected Ohio farms. The measurement of microbial communities, nematode indices, and enzyme activities will be used to map soil food webs and therefore, provide unique information on the sensitivity of soil biological indicators to management change and the structure and function of the soil food web. The results from the investigation of these biological indicators will be able to provide farmers with information pertaining to the function of the soil food web under varying management practices
Farmers will learn how soil biological indicators can aid them in making comprehensive management decisions that will assist in the adaption to climate change, increase yield, and improve soil health. Specifically, nematode indices and enzyme activities can provide insight on the structure, decomposition channel, level of disturbance, enrichment, and nutrient cycling within their fields. After measuring the soil biological indicators on their fields, farmers will learn how to assess and interpret the results. The enhanced information and the knowledge base created through this study will be shared with the farmers and encourage the implementation of sustainable agriculture practices and enhanced soil health.