OTTAWA, Ohio – Soil researchers across the Midwest, including agronomists and scientists from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, want to help growers unlock the secrets of soil health to improve yields, lower input costs and increase farm income.
A new series of YouTube videos, called “The Science of Soil Health,” is designed to provide new insight into how to improve soil health while benefiting the environment and lowering production costs, said Jim Hoorman, an Ohio State University Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues.
Hoorman, along with Alan Sundermeier, an OSU Extension educator who specializes in agronomic crop production, participated in the series. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
The video project is headed by Robin (Buz) Kloot, a research associate professor at the University of South Carolina. The YouTube video series includes interviews by some of the nation’s leading experts in soil biology, agronomy, entomology and soil ecology, organizers said. The project was done in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The goal of the videos is to educate farmers, Hoorman said.
“With all the issues surrounding nitrogen and phosphorus in Lake Erie, and all the issues regarding soil health, these videos are a quick, easy way to explain to farmers some of the benefits of using cover crops,” he said.
Already, the soil microbes video has been viewed more than 3,200 times, Hoorman said.
“Soil health is a hot topic that people want more information on as farmers are looking for ways to improve soil structure and reduce compaction,” he said. “Cover crops improve the soil by adding carbon, which makes the soil more productive.”
It also takes less fuel to plant a cover crop than it does to till the soil, Hoorman said.
“The added benefit of cover crops is the increase in soil organic matter,” he said. “Tillage destroys soil organic matter.
“Tillage will never make your soil better; it is a short-term benefit while cover crops are a long-term benefit.”
Live plants, Hoorman said, typically have 1,000 to 2,000 times more soil microbes living around the roots compared to bare soil.
To quote Richard Dick, a professor of soil microbiology in the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, “microbes are a ‘soluble bags of fertilizer, recycling soil nutrients and feeding the plant’,” Hoorman said.
“If you have live roots year-round, you can feed the soil microbes year-round and improve your soil,” Hoorman said.
“We can’t solve our soil compaction problems with steel because steel destroys soil structure,” Sundermeier said in the video. “If you want to improve soil structure, you need to have more live roots in the soil. The majority of the soil organic mater comes from the roots.”
The question of whether agriculture can significantly reduce off-site movement of soluble nutrients can also be addressed through the use of cover crops, Hoorman said.
“Cover crop roots improve water infiltration and reduce nutrient and water runoff,” he said.
Growers who plant cover crops and vegetative systems in agriculture will also find that they can tie up phosphorus in a stable phosphorus form that remains in the soil, which can increase phosphorus use efficiency, Hoorman said.
“Ohio soil test data using phosphorus speciation shows that phosphorus is tied up by calcium/magnesium, iron oxides and aluminum oxides,” he said. “However, under certain environmental conditions such as saturated soils and no oxygen, the iron oxide is being reduced by the soil microbes hungry for oxygen, releasing soluble reactive phosphorus.
“By increasing water infiltration and improving soil structure with cover crops, the soluble phosphorus in the water can be tied up by minerals and organic residues deeper in the soil profile, reducing phosphorus lost to surface or subsurface (tile) water.”
For more information on the video series or on cover crops, contact Hoorman at 419-523-6294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The whole video series can be viewed on the USDA-NRCS website at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/soils/health/?cid=stelprdb1245890.
James J. Hoorman