Using On-Farm Soil Health to Engage Research and Education Towards Sustainable Agriculture

Project Overview

GNC21-321
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,832.00
Projected End Date: 11/01/2023
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Chuck Rice
Kansas State University
Faculty Advisor:
Ignacio Ciampitti
Kansas State University, Department of Agronomy
Dorivar Ruiz Diaz
Kansas State University, Department of Agronomy

Commodities

No commodities identified

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Kansas State University, Bayer Crop Science, USDA-NRCS, Guetterman Brothers Family Farms, and The Save Farm will form a team to provide integrated research, extension, and education efforts to farmers and future agriculture players on understanding of soil health and sustainable agricultural practices. Soil health has wide-ranging benefits and is of increasing interest to farmers and agricultural stakeholders. While no-till is widely adopted, the implementation of other conservational practices such as cover crops is still relatively low. One possible reason for the low adoption of soil health improving practices is the long-term returns and the lack of science- and data-driven based evaluations. This project builds upon the Kansas Soil Health Partnership and intends to extend for 2 years the on-farm soil health research conducted at Guetterman Brothers Family Farms (Bucyrus, KS) since 2018 for a total of 7 years. The goals of this project are to (1) evaluate the effect of winter cover crops on soil health and soybean and corn yields; (2) assess the effect of cover crops on soil health indicators (soil organic carbon, microbial community composition, and enzyme activity); (3) quantify the impact of soil health indicators on crop yield; and (4) determine the economic benefits of a long-term (after 7 years) on-farm cover crop adoption. We believe that the involvement of farmers via field days and educational approaches such as cover crop gardens will substantially impact the adoption of sustainable practices, increase soil organic carbon, soil biodiversity, water infiltration, and reduce soil erosion. Involvement of pre-college students via field days will impact the long-term adoption of sustainable practices, building a legacy for future generations. The long-term goal for this project is to sustainably increase the productivity of our current (and less diversified) agricultural systems by increasing soil health, removing yield-limiting factors, educating, advocating, and supporting the dissemination and use of cover crops. At the end of this project, farmers will: (1) improve and diversify their production systems through data-driven recommendations; (2) identify circumstances where adopting cover crops will not be only a viable option but will demonstrate improvements on soil health and sustainability of their farms; and (3) improve farmers economic well-being, quality of life, and professional inquiry of issues related to environmental stewardship and long-term sustainability. These outcomes represent critical steps toward agricultural systems sustainability and will lead to positive improvements in agricultural productivity and soil health.

Project objectives from proposal:

Learning outcomes: (1) provide integrated Extension and Education efforts benefitting both farmers and students and their understanding of sustainable agricultural practices; (2) empower farmers with knowledge and applied skills for sustaining and improving soil health on their farms; (3) support networking and technical assistance to help farmers and their advisors make decisions that will result in positive changes for the profitability of their operation and soil sustainability. After this project, farmers will (action outcomes): (1) improve and diversify their production systems through data-driven recommendations; (2) identify circumstances where adopting cover crops will not be only a viable option but will demonstrate improvements on soil health and sustainability of their farms; (3) improve farmers economic well-being, quality of life, and professional inquiry of issues related to environmental stewardship and long-term sustainability. These outcomes represent critical steps toward agricultural systems sustainability and will lead to positive improvements in agricultural productivity and soil health across the North Central region and positive education changes for promoting sustainability. Furthermore, we expect this project to result in fundamental new knowledge on benefits from cover crops for similar agricultural production systems in the US and worldwide. Additionally, this project will result in the education of many current farmers and next-generation agriculturalists (5-12 grades), who will gain valuable experience on agricultural sustainability. We believe that pre-college involvement via field days will impact the long-term adoption of sustainable practices, building up a legacy for future generations.

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.