- Education and Training: extension
- Energy: anaerobic digestion
- Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil quality/health
Multiple aspects of farming practices and operations need to be optimized simultaneously and coherently to make food production sustainable. Productivity needs to be maintained while soil nutrients, water quality and farm waste need to be managed properly to mitigate negative impacts of farming on the surrounding ecosystems, so people in the next generations continue to receive ecosystem services. Though often ignored due to their intangible nature, microorganisms play important roles in agriculture by facilitating growth of plants via symbiotic interactions, maintaining the water quality of receiving water bodies, and converting farm waste into renewable energy and nutrient-rich biofertilizer. The microbial processes are natural rather than synthetic, mediating long-lasting interactions between nutrients, plants, and soils.
In this proposal, the PI and co-PI will conduct an education program on the vital roles of microbes in sustainable agriculture. Topics covered will include microbes involved in the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, mycorrhizal fungi, and microbes that are involved in anaerobic digestion and composting of farm waste. The targeted audience will be local and regional small-scale farmers, who are likely to adopt sustainable farming practices. This education program will allow farmers to learn methods to sustainably fertilize and improve soils using naturally occurring materials and processes, the concept that over fertilization or irrigation may pollute groundwater or reservoirs, and skills about waste conversion into renewable energy and biofertilizer, which make farming operations more sustainable.
A total of 12 sessions of the education program will be hosted over the two year period by the PI and co-PI at the Energy Research and Education Park in Gainesville, FL, and that three Research and Education Centers in the state of Florida. The education program will be conducted on a hands-on basis. Farmers will learn the microbial process through visualization including observing red-colored leghemoglobin in nodules of legume plants, and observing hyphae of mycorrhizae on the root areas through a microscope. They will also observe differences in plant growth with mycorrhizae vs. w/o mycorrhizae, or the biofertilizer application vs. w/o biofertilizer. The treated and controls plots will be created prior to the sessions. Biogas from anaerobic digestion of farm wastes will be visualized by flaming using a Bunsen burner. We will also create an educational website regarding microbes that are utilized in sustainable agriculture. We will create infographics that summarize the role of microbes in sustainable farming and post them on the website. Videos that capture highlights of our educational sessions and testimony of participants will be created and posted on the website. The link to the website will be disseminated and will be used to recruit farmers. We believe that education through hands-on experiences and visualization is the most effective way to transfer knowledge and skills, and also to motivate people who receive the information.
Project objectives from proposal:
- To make intangible microbial processes tangible (mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and microbes in an anaerobic digester), so farmers can comprehend the essential roles of microbes in sustainable farming processes.
- To show farmers that natural processes with the help of symbiotic microbes will increase productivity relative to control (without microbial symbiont).
- To teach the benefits of natural sustainable processes compared to agricultural practices that could potentially harm our surrounding ecosystem, through this microbial-based exercise.