By Drs. Rafiq Islam and Arif Rahman
The Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources (SWBR) program at The Ohio State University South Centers focuses on developing, managing, and disseminating science-based knowledge on economically viable, environmentally compatible, and socially acceptable agricultural management practices to address climate change, water quality and management, and food quality and public health of the state of Ohio.
Extension Outreach Activities
Visitors returned to South Centers for an August field night focused on aquaponics and hydroponics systems. The event was attended by 28 aquaponic and hydroponic growers, farmers, educators, students, and other clientele, and was sponsored via a USDA capacity-building grant with Central State University (CSU). Several presentations were delivered, and demonstrations were performed to showcase both aquaponics and hydroponics research by Rafiq Islam, Brad Bergefurd, Arif Rahman, Thom Harker, Krishnakumar Nedunuri (CSU), and guest speaker Jenni Blackburn, co-owner of the family-owned Fresh Harvest Farm in Richwood, Ohio. Attendees had the opportunity to tour the South Centers aquaponics research system. Topics covered were ones beneficial to both beginners and experienced aquaponics farmers, and included system selection and maintenance, plant and fish production, water quality, social media and marketing, and business success/finances.
Several SWBR personnel attended at the 2021 Ohio No-Till Council annual meetings. Several presentations and discussions were held on micronutrients availability and crop yield sustainability, no-tillers approach and Federal Government, OSU-CFAES discoveries and lessons learned in no-till systems, ag technology (precision, automation, compaction, heavy vehicles, and their effects on soil health), and new technologies for plant protection. Rafiq Islam participated in a panel discussion on soil health, no-till, and cover crops associated with climate-smart agriculture.
The SWBR conducted an agro-tourism event to entertain 52 Ohio (Morrow county) Soil and Water Conservation District personnel when they visited South Centers in Piketon. During the visit, they were provided with evidence-based knowledge associated with applied research and education activities on aquaponics/hydroponics, climate-smart agriculture, soil health, food quality and public health, and agroecosystem services. Islam and Rahman delivered a virtual Extension presentation titled “Cover crops complement no-till soil quality and agroecosystem services” to the needs of the farmers, educators, and professionals at the Midwest Indigo Soil Health Meetings.
Islam was actively involved internationally, participating in virtual presentations and teaching of farmers, students, educators, and professionals at different field days and meetings in Ukraine. He and Dr. Nataliia Didenko delivered an Extension presentation to 30 farmers and educators on potential opportunities and benefits of no-till farming. The event was held at a no-till farmer’s field in the Kherson region (Oblast) of southern Ukraine. Moreover, Islam participated virtually at the World Soil Day international conference “Transformations in Ukrainian Soils and Conservative Innovations,” organized by The National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine in December 2021. He and Dr. Didenko delivered a presentation titled “Regenerative agriculture to improve soil health and crop productivity in Ukraine” to the audience of more than 100 participants from Ukraine, Romania, Moldovia, Poland, and other east European countries. Moreover, he has participated at the International Symposium on Coastal Agriculture (ISCA Webinar): “Transforming coastal zone for sustainable food and income security” organized in virtually in March 2021. Islam delivered his invited talk titled “Nano-fertilization and chemical inducing to improve crop growth” to an audience of more than 300 participants from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to recommend short-rotation, high-value crops, especially vegetables that can be grown sustainability using nano fertilization, via foliar fertilization, soil application, or both, and drip irrigation or chemigation. Salicylic acid (aspirin as an economic and a widely available source) can be used to improve plants’ tolerance to abiotic (e.g., salinity) and biotic stresses, via seed treatment, foliar fertilization, root treatment (dipping into solution), soil applications, and drip irrigation or chemigation.
In response to worldwide soil and water quality degradation by secondary salinity and its impact on agricultural sustainability and global food security, Islam participated at the Integrated Salinity Management (ISM2021) virtual workshop titled “Salicornia potentials; Forage production and value change in coastal area.” He delivered a virtual presentation titled “Salicornia as a potential forage to reclaim salt-affected soils” to more than 100 audience participants of Middle-eastern and North African countries. His presentation focused on novel and holistic approaches with proactive and target-specific objectives for sustainable management of saline soils using Salicornia (halophytes) to support for food, forage, fiber, and bioenergy production with improved ecosystem services in the coastal agriculture.
Research, Demonstration,and International Collaboration
The SWBR program team submitted and received research grant funding from Ohio Vegetable and Small Fruit Research and Development Program (OVSFRP), Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), U.S. Embassy (Moscow) and American Councils for International Education (ACIE), and Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF-Global) and Ukrainian Ministry of Science and Technology to work on research, academic, and Extension programs.
The SWBR program, in conjunction with the Specialty Crops program (Brad Bergefurd) received a seed grant from OVSFRP. The objective of the research was to evaluate the effects of different rates of conventional, chelated, and nano-Fe fertilization on the growth and yield with especial reference to food quality and public health benefits of processing tomatoes. Research focus was emphasized on public health aspects of essential nutrient density, anti-oxidants, and lycopene as influenced by climate-smart agriculture.
A collaborative ODA Specialty Crop grant titled “Improving tomato yield and quality using nano fertilization with salicylic acid” was received by the SWBR program along with the Specialty Crops program (Brad Bergefurd), and OSU Athens Extension (Ed Brown).
Islam and Rahman, in collaboration with scientists and professors from the Institute of Water Quality and Land Reclamation, Kherson State Agrarian University, Dnipro State Agrarian University, and Kyiv, National University of Life and Environmental Sciences, and Serney Agricultural Station in Ukraine, received a CRDF-Global US-Ukraine alternate energy research development grant proposal working on proactive recycling of biosolids to rejuvenate soil health of marginal and degraded lands for sustainable production of bioenergy feedstocks in Ukraine. The research was on-going at four different sites in Ukraine using biosolids (sewage sludge) as a source of soil amendment and fertilizer expected to improve vast areas of degraded and marginal lands in Ukraine for growing sweet sorghum to produce bioenergy (Ethanol). Sweet sorghum is a drought-tolerant C4 double sugar crop that has more sugar (20-23%) than sugarcane (~17%). After squeezing sugar, the bagasse will be biochemically processed for cellulosic sugars to produce Ethanol as a fuel and other forms of energy. After processing bagasse, the leftover materials will be treated and converted to produce activated charcoals or biochar as soil amendments or biopolymers for everyday-use consumables.
The SWBR program also received a U.S.-Russian UniVIP Grant Program titled “Strengthening U.S.-Russian capacity building collaboration through joint-institutional teaching and research development” to develop, share, and exchange up-to-date information and proactive approaches for academic education and capacity-building among professionals between The Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Tyumen (UT), and equip the latter with knowledge and tools to strengthen and sustain programmatic development in these areas. Islam and Bradford Sherman are leading the project.
So far, the project collaboration delivered both learning and action outcomes based on layers of diverse, practical, and interpretative approaches, methods, and tools via academic courses, educational materials, virtual modes of teaching and learning, hands-on practice, demonstration, and assistance for faculty and students. Greater exposure, knowledge, awareness, skills, and virtual modes of teaching and learning of faculty members, administration, and students at UT and other Russian academicians on climate change effects, soil and environmental quality, research methodology, regenerative agriculture, food security, data analytics, and visualization. Increased motivation among faculty members and students at UT to upgrade and modernize academic courses and participate in academic research activities to fulfill the requirements of higher degrees and professional development. Motivated and enthusiastic administration at UT is currently working to strengthen their institutional capacity building by removing roadblocks and providing logistic support for conducting nationally-prioritized, mission-driven research studies via the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Improved understanding and active collaboration among faculty members at OSU and UT impacted OSU’s involvement in global academic and research leadership, including Russia.
On-farm research was established to evaluate the effects of no-till and cover crops on soil health and its relationship with food quality and public health at Brandts Farm at Carroll, Fairfield County, Ohio. The study used a mixture consisting of hairy vetch (winter tolerant legume nitrogen for corn), clover (legume nitrogen for corn), cereal rye, and oats to build soil quality and provide balanced nutrition via cover crops to improve food quality.
Tools and Technology
Maintenance of soil health is important to sustain crop productivity. Likewise, building soil organic matter (or carbon sequestration) is important to improve soil health and address global food security. Considering the two issues of climate-smart agriculture, we developed and marketed two global licensed technology for farmers and other clientele, one on “OSU soil quality/health field test kit” and the other one on “Buckeye SOM Calculator” in conjunction with SoilOne Inc.
Publications and Books
Based on long-term research data collection, Extension activities, and work experience, SWBR program team members involved in collaborative applied and academic research with scientists, students, and professors from different countries proactively utilized their time to publish several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. There were 12 papers published in Land Reclamation Water Management; Applied Soil Ecology; PLOS ONE; Agronomy; Horticulturae; Water, Air, Soil Pollution; Fresenius Environmental Bulletin; Soil and Tillage Research; Pedosphere; Soil Use and Management Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis; and Eurasian Journal Soil Science. Rahman wrote a book chapter titled “Extraction of valuable compounds from agricultural crop residues and wastes,” published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in November 2021.
Recognition, Awards, and Services
In 2020, the SWBR program was recognized with several awards and provided professional services in several areas. The program was listed on the OSU Laboratory Safety Dean’s List. The program was twice recognized by U.S. Congress for helping to develop and mentor young leadership in Africa via the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
Islam is serving as one of the academic editors of the PLOS ONE journal. He is also serving as one of the editorial board members of the Journal of Botanical Research and Applications, American Journal of Plant Sciences, and Land Reclamation and Water Management. Islam also served as one of the technical review committee members of the National Research Council / National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine fellowships.
In 2020, Islam reviewed USDA-FAS, CRDF Global, OSU President’s accelerated and internal grants, Sustainability Institute proposals, USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation (MEAC) - Agriculture Panel, CEAES Annual Meeting Research presentations review, as well as Fulbright fellowship proposals (Egypt) and more than 25 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Rahman reviewed proposals from the Ohio Academy of Sciences, USDA-Borlaug Prorgams, Ohio EPA, and CEAES Annual Meeting Research presentations, and articles from PLOS ONE. Program personnel were proactively involved in national and international academic, research, and outreach prorgams to improve institutional capacity building and professional development of faculty members, researchers, and students.