These news stories, which concern soil and soil-related topics, have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. I try to pick one article each day to highlight. Sometimes I will select two articles. Sometimes it will be a slow news day and I won’t find any to highlight. The full articles are located off of this site. Click on the title to see the full article. I will keep links on this page for about a month. View the Archive for a list of older articles.
FAO salutes grasslands for carbon abatement (Stock and Land, 31 Jan 10)
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have observed that livestock and pastoral systems have major role in climate change mitigation. A FAO report states that grasslands cover 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands and store up to 30 percent of the world’s soil carbon, plus the carbon stored in above-ground shrubs and trees. The world’s dryland ecosystems have the potential to sequester a billion tons of carbon a year with improved management systems that aim to sequester carbon.
Green Scene: El Niño could increase garden pests this spring (Washington Post, 30 Jan 10)
The excess moisture from El Nino this winter may increase disease and insect problems this spring. If more cold spells occur before spring, it will interrupt the life cycles of some pests and help control them. The article also mentions several specific insect and disease problems and what to do to control them.
Is Iron from Soil a Factor in Algal Blooms? (Science Daily, 29 Jan 10)
Scientists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia are looking at how iron in soil contributes to blue-green algae blooms. Iron is known to be a factor in algal blooms but the mechanism for solubilization of solid soil iron is unknown. Scientists from QUT have put together a combined approach using microbiology, geochemistry, and hydrology studies.
Study: Biomass crops attract beneficial insects (Biomass Magazine, 28 Jan 10)
Research at Michigan State University has found that diverse biomass crop plantings of switchgrass and native prairie grasses lead to a higher number of beneficial insects than nondiverse crops such as corn. Crops like corn have a low plant diversity and high levels of soil disturbance, leading to low abundance and diversity of beneficial insects. The caveat is that as biomass crops are pushed for higher yield, the diversity will decline.
Agricultural pollution: Inputs that place huge pressure on the land (Financial Times, 27 Jan 10)
Intensive agriculture has lead to the production of cheap food, sustaining the population expansion we’ve had during the past six decades. By focusing on monoculture crops, we have had yield increases and efficiencies that unknown on the small farms before intensive agriculture. These increases come at a price, since fertilizer, pesticides and animal manure can cause serious problems when they enter water supplies. Intensive use of groundwater for crop irrigation and livestock use leads to salinization of the water supplies and water shortages. With tougher regulations, farmers worldwide have begun to reduce this pollution.
For a successful garden, know your soil (Christian Science Monitor, 26 Jan 10)
This article discusses the importance of soil for a healthy garden and how to get a soil survey data from the US Department of Agriculture for the soils in your area. Once you know the characteristics of your soil, you can amend the soil to optimize it for plant growth.
Slugfests in the Soil (Southwest News-Herald, 25 Jan 10)
Apple replant disease is the result of a number of pathogenic organisms in the soil. While you can chemically fumigate the soil, it can be costly and some farmers don’t want to add those chemicals to the soil. USDA ARS Scientists have found that the naturally occurring soil bacteria, Pseudomonas, may keep the pathogenic organisms at bay. When amoebas attack Pseudomonads, the Pseudomonads fight back by oozing proteins called cyclic lipopeptides that stop the amoebas in their tracks.
Farmers, experts team against lake pollution (Waterworld, 24 Jan 10)
Agricultural leaders and farmers in upstate New York have been working to improve the water quality in Lake Champlain by reducing the levels of phosphorus entering the lake. Efforts include upgrading storage facilities, constructing new buildings and improving barnyard management practices. By keeping clean water and barnyard wastes separate, they have improved the phosphorus levels in tributaries entering Lake Champlain.
Water hits and sticks: Findings challenge a century of assumptions about soil hydrology (Oregon State University, 23 Jan 10)
Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that some of the fundamental assumptions about water movement through soil in a seasonally dry climate are incorrect. In a new study, scientists showed that soil clings tenaciously to the first precipitation after a dry summer. In fact it holds it so tightly that this water almost never mixes with other water.
Master Gardener – Test your soil to get ready for planting (Star News Online, 22 Jan 10)
This article is geared towards North Carolina but it gives some good basic information about soil and soil tests. Soil testing gives you a baseline so you know which area need amendments and which nutrients you need to add to your soil. The article goes into detail about soil pH and how to test soil.
WWII-era soil, water contamination under control (Business Gazette, 21 Jan 10)
Engineers at Joint Bast Andrews are reporting that cleanup efforts at an old military storage site in Brandywine are a success. Contaminants from chemical spills from the 1940s had spread several acres beyond the original eight-acre storage site. So far all of the soil-based contamination has been removed and the spread of contaminants in groundwater has been halted.
Urban ‘Green’ Spaces May Contribute to Global Warming (Science Daily, 20 Jan 10)
Lawns help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storing carbon in the soil. The problem is that fertilization, mowing, leaf blowing and all of those other lawn management practices emit four times the amount of carbon stored in the lawn. Plus fertilization results in the release of nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet (Time Magazine, 20 Jan 10)
Unlike cattle raised in feedlots, cattle raised on pasture put back more carbon that is taken out. As cattle graze pastures, it spurs new grass growth and their feet work manure and other organic materials into the soil, making it richer and healthier. This keeps the carbon dioxide in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Bacteria Are More Capable of Complex Decision-Making Than Thought (Science Daily, 19 Jan 10)
Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville have shown that bacteria are more capable of complex decision-making than previously thought. Gladys Alexandre used a Azospirillium brasilense, a nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, in her study. A mutant form of the bacteria was missing the receptor which determines the proper concentration of oxygen for nitrogen fixation reaction. Without this receptor, the bacteria was unable to position itself where the correct concentration of oxygen was located.
Ghana: The Threat of Desertification in Country (allAfrica.com, 18 Jan 10)
Two thirds of Africa is desert or dry land with frequent and severe droughts. In Ghana, 35 percent of the total land area is under threat of desertification and soil fertility is in severe decline. Ghana has been a signatory to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification since 1994. According to a recent GNA report, the Ghana Environmental Management Project has started to restore 100 hectares of degraded land.
Research farm utilizes no-till farming system to stay profitable (Bismarck Farm and Ranch Guide, 17 Jan 10)
The Dakota Lakes Research Farm in South Dakota has been completely low disturbance no-till since the mid-1990s. This farm is both a farmer-owned for-profit enterprise and a research center. In spite of the driest weather in history during the past 10 years, the farm has remained profitable by utilizing no-till, knowing the water-holding capacity of the soils, putting in crops that use water efficiently, and leaving residue on the soil at harvest. Production of soybeans, corn, spring wheat, and sunflowers was significantly increased by these practices.
Precision agriculture moves farming forward (High Plains Journal, 16 Jan 10)
Precision agriculture allows farmers to vary application rates of fertilizers and pesticides with maps of crop yield and soil properties and GPS systems. Ag equipment has gone from 10 percent having a precision agriculture component 5 years ago to 70 to 80 percent currently. Plus today’s precision agriculture packages are integrated into a single package rather than multiple pieces of equipment that a farmer must learn.
How Wetlands Worsen Climate Change (Time, 15 Jan 10)
While carbon dioxide gets most of the press when it comes to greenhouse gases, methane has 23 times the warming effect of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Methane is also on the rise, with about 60 percent of global methane emissions coming from man-made sources. The atmospheric concentration of methane has increased 150% since 1750. Methane can come from such sources as landfills, cow stomachs, wetlands, and rice paddies.
NIFA-Nominated Scientist wins Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 14 Jan 10)
David McNear, a researcher from the University of Kentucky, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his research in soil science. The USDA-NIFA funded research increased our understanding of the impact of pasture management on soil quality, productivity and sustainability of tall fescue pastures and livestock grazing operations, and for teaching and outreach.
Report Says Grasslands Can Help Combat Climate Change (Voice of America News, 14 Jan 10)
According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, grasslands have the potential to limit climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. The proper management of pastures and rangelands can lead to pastures and grasslands being a more powerful carbon sink than forests in overcoming climate change. These same agricultural practices increase productivity and food security.
NH Officials: Ag Has Key Role in Saving Energy (ABC News, 13 Jan 10)
New Hampshire officials say agriculture has a major role to play in the push for energy efficiency as part of the state’s climate action plan. The plan includes increasing cover crops as a means to protect and improve the soil, greater use of conservation tillage, no-till management practices, and better manure management. Well-managed soils can absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide.
Soil Scientists in Afghanistan (Soil Science Society of America, 12 Jan 10)
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – National Soil Survey Laboratory is working in partnership with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service to develop an agreement to sample soils and to teach local nationals about soil and water conservation, soil sampling, and techniques for describing a soil. The full article published in the Winter issue of Soil Survey Horizons is available as a .PDF download.
New report reviews available knowledge on threats to agricultural soils (FarmingUK Newsdesk, 11 Jan 10)
The EU is preparing a Soil Framework Directive prepared by scientists, stakeholders and NGOs to protect European soils from further degradation. As part of this effort, Danish scientists have prepared a report on the threats to soil quality and functions that are particularly important under Danish conditions. Three major threats are identified: soil compaction, reduction of organic matter content, and erosion due to water runoff and soil tillage. The threats are assessed on the basis of whether the damage to the soil is permanent or not.
Agriculture is up to the task (Pittsburgh Morning Sun, 10 Jan 10)
Some predict that agriculture in the United States is losing its competitive edge due the high costs of producing food, limited land, water shortages, and energy shortages. However, others have noticed that farmers are increasing organic matter in soil, improving soil tilth, using new and improved crop varieties, and improving production practices. American farmers are up to the task of farming wisely.
Scientists Request Meeting with American Farm Bureau President to Discuss Group’s ‘Inaccurate’ Stance on Climate Change (Union of Concerned Scientists, 8 Jan 10)
More than 40 scientists with expertise in climate, agriculture, soil, and entomological science sent a letter to Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, to request a meeting to discuss the group’s “inaccurate and marginalized” position on global warming. The Farm Bureau has stated that “there is no generally agreed upon scientific assessment on…carbon emissions from human activities, their impact on past decades of warming, or how they will affect future climate changes.” The scientists believe this position ignores the huge amount of scientific evidence that shows climate change is occurring and that it puts the Farm Bureau members at risk.
Cataclysm That Killed Dinos Still Taking Lives Today (FOXNews.com, 7 Jan 10)
The high incidence of lung cancer in China’s Xuan Wei County in the Yunnan Province is due to the type of coal that residents use for heating and cooking. The coal was formed from the eruption of the supervolcano that some believe is responsible for killing the dinosaurs. The high silica content of the coal interacts with the volatile organic matter in the soil to form carcinogenic substances.
Scientist’s Breakthrough Given Ticket to Mars (Science Daily, 6 Jan 10)
An experiment to analyze large carbon molecules will be added to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on a mobile NASA laboratory that will land on Mars in 2012. NASA scientist Jennifer Eigenbrode developed a sample preparation technique that would preserve large organic molecules and protect them from the environment on Mars for analysis by the instrumentation on the SAM.
Climate simulator plays role in COP15 (The Dartmouth, 6 Jan 10)
The C-ROADS Climate simulator played a key role in the Climate Change negotiations held in Copenhagen last month. C-ROADS is a “decision-maker-oriented” simulation that provides information on the effect of various greenhouse gas emission reductions on climate change. Since it can perform analyses quickly, it provided information on the potential consequences of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
New Alliance to Study Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture (Voice of America, 5 Jan 10)
Twenty-one nations have formed the Global Research Alliance on Agriculture Greenhouse Gases to examine farming activities that might add to global warming. Animal waste, cattle digestive systems, fertilized soil, some tillage methods, and burning crop waste release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In addition to protecting against global warming, this group will also work towards developing better farming methods to feed growing populations.
US consults on dioxin contamination (Environmental Data Interactive, 4 Jan 10)
The US Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public input on its draft interim preliminary remediation goals (PRGs) for dioxins in soils. The proposed PRGs reduce the recommended levels of dioxin contamination at commercial and industrial sites by a fifth and reduce the recommended levels on residential land to less than a tenth of the current recommended levels. The draft interim PRGs also include consideration for the potential absorption of dioxin through skin exposure.
Let’s take it outside: Outdoor Alabama classroom teaches environment up close (Press-Register – Alabama Live, 2 Jan 10)
Castlen Elementary School in Grand Bay, Alabama has built an outdoor environmental classroom with the help of several grants. The outdoor classroom has a pitcher plant bog, raised planting beds for growing vegetables and herbs, a compost barn, and a pole barn with picnic tables for classes. Another grant will be used to build a greenhouse. Each of the students visits the outdoor classroom two or three times a week.
Soil & Water Conservation Districts offer model for climate control (The Prairie Star, 1 Jan 10)
The Soil Conservation Service, part of the National Resources Conservation Service, has been working on conservation since the 1930s. Because of the activities of the Soil Conservation Service in the mid- to late-1930s, farmers and ranchers started using contour farming, terraces, seeding grass waterways, and leaving riparian lands in grass. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts continue their work today in working with land users so that conservation measures mesh with land use objectives.