2020 a busy year for SWBR

Rafiq Islam
SWBR Program Leader

With our mission to develop and promote research, Extension, and educational programs for agricultural management practices that are environmentally compatible to sustain soil and water resources and are economically viable for producers and growers, the 2020 achievements of Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources (SWBR) program at The Ohio State University South Centers are summarized in the following sections.

Cover Crops and Sustainable AgriculturePublications and books
While the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected in-person academic, research, and Extension activities, the SWBR program team members proactively utilized their time working from home to publish a total 14 research articles in high-impact factored peer-reviewed SCI journals (impact factor 0.951 to 4.021 with a mean of 2.773), based on their national and international collaborations. The articles were published in Soil and Sediment Contamination, Agricultural Water Management, Annals of Agricultural and Biological Research, Agricultural and Environmental Letters, Journal of Plant Nutrition, Journal of Soils and Sediments, Journal of Botanical Research and Applications, Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, and Eurasian Journal of Soil Science.

Dr. Rafiq Islam, who leads the SWBR program, wrote and/or edited the 18-chapter, 320-page book titled “Cover Crops and Sustainable Agriculture” along with Bradford Sherman. The book is set to be published by the CRC Press, part of the Taylor and Francis Group (routledge.com). While this book was not written to serve as an encyclopedia of cover crop management — it certainly comes close. 

Inside we discuss the benefits of a wide range of individual cover crops and blends/mixes for specific agronomic crop rotations and geographic locations. Descriptions, photographs, and illustrations (including those of plant height, leaf architecture, and rooting patterns) demonstrate to readers how cover crops should look in the field. Long-term benefits are described for soil health, water quality, nutrient contributions, soil biodiversity, air quality, and climate change. In addition to the “whys” of cover crop use, this book also includes details on the “hows”: how to choose cover crops for specific applications and locations; how (and when) to plant; how to manage and maintain the cover for maximum benefit; and how (and when) to terminate. We hope this book will interest a broad audience including faculty members, students, farmers, agriculture researchers and educators, ecologists, economists, federal and state personnel, policy makers, and those who are looking for simple and illustrative information on sustainable agriculture.   

Workshops, meetings, and symposiums 
The SWBR program at South Centers organized a preconference workshop titled “Building Agricultural Resilience to a Changing Climate” along with Aaron Wilson (Byrd Polar & Climate Research Center; CFAES-OSU Extension/State Climate Office) and Alan Sundermeier (OSU Extension) at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) annual conference held in Dayton. Islam and Sundermeier also organized two more sessions at the OEFFA annual conference, one titled “Climate-Smart Organic Grains for Healthy Soils, Healthy Food, and Healthy People,” and another titled “Climate-Smart Organic Vegetables for Healthy Soils, Healthy Food, and Healthy People.” Islam delivered two presentations. 
These two sessions focused on current and future global climate change effects, organic grain and vegetable production in Ohio and the United States, degradation of soil health and water quality, chemical inducing of plants to improve water and nutrient-use efficiency, and conservation agriculture to enhance ecosystem services associated with improved food quality, nutrients, amino acids, and phytochemicals to support public health. 

Riti Chatterjee, a visiting scholar of the SWBR program delivered an in-depth presentation entitled “Indian Experience on Organic Farming” and was included in the Building Agricultural Resilience to a Changing Climate session. In it, she discussed India’s rich and diverse heritage of agricultural traditions that makes it suitable for designing organic production systems, and its investment in applied research, Extension, and marketing infrastructure. Riti also touched on the constraints farmers are facing with special reference to small vegetable farmers. 

Islam was actively involved internationally, participating in virtual teaching for the training program “Growing organic crops in crop rotation with a focus on technical tomatoes” organized by the Institute of Water Problems and Land Reclamation of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine, together with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The entire training program, in six different modules, was supported by the European Union in the framework of the EU4Business initiative “Ukraine: Training for Small and Medium Agricultural Enterprises.” As part of the training program, Islam and Dr. Nataliia Didenko delivered a two-hour PowerPoint presentation titled “Organic Production - Principles and World Experience.” Around 30 participants, mostly small-scale future organic farmers in Ukraine, attended the training course held at Mykolaiv in Ukraine. During and after their presentation, both Islam and Didenko emphasized Ukraine’s availability of vast areas of fertile lands that could be turned into alternate farming practices, especially organic production, compared to current industrial farming systems. Small-scale farmers could export organic produce to European and North American markets, thus improving farm stability and the livelihood of Ukrainian small and future farmers. There is a high demand for organic tomatoes, particularly in the United States and Europe. The economical profitability and healthy properties of organic crops can help provide great opportunities for small-scale, poor, and new farmers, and along with rural job creation and organic export marketing opportunities, can help minimize farming costs with recycling of natural resources, and reduce pollution and improve soil health and water quality. Ukraine has the land, water, technology, and motivated people to achieve these objectives, it just needs to remove Soviet-style old administrative roadblocks and create proactive business/marketing opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs.

Rafiq Islam participated virtually in the International Symposium on Food Security and the Stand of Civilization: Agri-Horti-Livestock Dynamics in Changing Global Ecology, jointly organized by Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, India; Lincoln University College, Malaysia; and University of Bengkulu, Indonesia. The more than 300 participants consisted of faculty members, scientists, professionals, and students, including personnel from several international organizations from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other East Asian countries. Islam delivered a 45-minute keynote PowerPoint presentation titled “Climate-Smart Agricultural Renaissance and Global Food Security.” In his presentation, he spoke about conventional agricultural practices, population growth, climate change effects (including greenhouse gas emission, global warming, and solar dimming on freshwater resources), soil health and food production and quality, conservation tillage, cover crops, and precision chemigation with new technologies and chemical-inducing (to minimize drought and salinity impacts) as part of climate-smart agriculture. After the presentation, there was an interactive question and answer session to discuss sustainable agriculture, population growth, and climate change adaptation and mitigation with special reference to food security in Asia.

One of the program’s PhD students, Shib Nath Pattadar, participated in the 2020 World Aquaculture Society America Conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii in February as part of his PhD research work. He delivered one oral and one poster presentation at the conference. The title of his oral presentation was “Is Fish Quality Healthier in Aquaponics?” and was delivered as part of the Aquaculture Engineering Society session of the conference. 

The goal was to evaluate whether the fish produced in U.S. aquaponics systems are as healthy and nutritionally enriched as imported fish. He had an ample opportunity to meet with world-renowned aquaculture scientists and network with them as part of his professional development. 

Jordan Maxwell, Research Assistant in the Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program, also participated in the conference, delivering a pair of presentations. One poster presentation was titled “Aquaponic System Impacts on Lettuce Yield and Quality” and disseminated research findings of green leafy lettuce grown in a deep-water culture aquaponic system using Nile tilapia, and compared that data to a replicated hydroponics system. She gave an oral presentation titled “Building Educational Capacity Through Collaborative Aquaponics Extension Education,” an overview of The Ohio State University South Center’s history of collecting research data, demonstrating, and transferring unbiased research-based aquaponics knowledge to expand educational outreach capacity. 

Research and extramural funding
Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program scientists wrote, submitted, and received several research grant proposals during the COVID-19 pandemic. In continuation of research, the team submitted 12 proposals to Warner Endowment, OSU-IGP, Farmers Advocating for Organic (FAFO), OSU-IGP for Ph.D. students, NC-SARE R&E (One with OSU and the other one with Lincoln University, MO), USDA-AFRI, and OSU Sustainability Institute. The research proposals and pre-proposals were focused on edge-of-field soil and nutrient loss; adsorption tools development to control soluble phosphorus loss (SRP) to control algal blooms; sustainable quinoa production; aquaponics education; soil health restoration of pasture lands; alternate energy feedstock production, especially Miscanthus; sweet sorghum; popular graduate student exchange programs, academic teaching, and research capacity development; and advanced energy co-products utilization for aquaculture and horticulture to support circular economy. Some of the proposals have primarily focused on technological innovations. 

Rafiq Islam was involved in writing and submitting several international research collaboration and science-based knowledge translation projects in several countries, notably Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. He wrote proposals with scientists and faculty members at Kazakh National Agrarian University (KazNAU) for Kazakh Government and private industry funding to conduct research on: 1) restoration of soil health for sustainable pasture production and 2) development of a KazNAU-OSU graduate student and faculty exchange program. In conjunction with Dr. Didenko at the Institute of Water Quality and Land Reclamation, Kyiv, Ukraine, Islam wrote a CRDF Global US-Ukraine alternate energy research development grant proposal to establish field research for the proactive recycling of biosolids to rejuvenate soil health of marginal and degraded lands for sustainable production of Miscanthus, sweet sorghum, and poplar energy bio-feedstocks in Ukraine. 

In addition, the Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program joined with the Specialty Crops program at South Centers (Rafiq Islam, Arif Rahman, Bradford Sherman, and Gary Gao) to submit a project titled “Strengthening U.S. and Uzbek Scientific Capacity through Joint-Institutional Agricultural Teaching, Research, and Outreach Development” between OSU-Tashkent State Agrarian University with funding support from UniCen-American Councils for International Education and U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 

Graduate students and visiting scholars
The Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program supported and supervised two students, Natalia Zappernick and Shib Nath Pattadar, for pursuing their graduate studies at The Ohio State University with its collaborative USDA-Capacity Building with the Central State University. Zappernick is a graduate student in the Food, Agricultural & Biological Engineering Department who completed MS degree in December 2020. Her research was focused on techno-economic analysis of a tilapia-lettuce aquaponics system, using data from both OSU and Central State University.

Pattadar, a PhD student in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, is currently pursuing his graduate research work on aquaponics and water quality at OSU South Centers at Piketon. The title of his PhD dissertation is “Moving toward sustainable food production: Aquaponics for healthy and nutritionally enriched fish and vegetable production.” The overreaching goal of the research is to determine whether the quality of tilapia fish produced in aquaponics operations are as healthy and nutritionally enriched as imported, conventionally raised fish available in the U.S. markets in terms of amino acids profiling, fatty acids composition, and mineral nutrition to support public health. He is pursuing his PhD dissertation under the supervision of Drs. Brian Slater (SENR) and Rafiq Islam (OSU South Centers).          

Dr. Emmanuel Compaore, head of the Soil Chemistry Division of Environmental Institute for Agricultural Research - Burkina Faso (INERA), as a short-term visiting scholar visited the Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program for his professional development. He is one of the leading soil scientists in Burkina Faso. 

His professional development training was focused on conservation agriculture related to long-term, no-till cropping diversity with cover crops and soil amendments with agroecosystem services. Moreover, he received training on our sophisticated laboratory equipment and tools and vast resources of computing, statistical, and library facilities to improve his data analysis and interpretation capability. In return, we benefitted from his research experience and training, and cultural activities acquired in Burkina Faso.

South Centers visiting scholar Riti Chatterjee, a PhD candidate at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya in West Bengal, India, also studied with the Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program for several months in 2020. She is working on conservation agriculture as one of the Senior Research Fellows at the Center for Advanced Agricultural Science and Technology, Indian Council of Agricultural Research-NAHEP, and World Bank-funded project. She is pursuing her doctoral research on estimation of ecological services in terms of energy, climate, and knowledge management. 

As part of her ongoing PhD program on conservation agriculture, she received the World Bank fellowship for a period of six months to pursue her Extension outreach research at The Ohio State University under the supervision of Dr. Islam. She attended several meetings including Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference (CTTC) annual meetings and the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association (OPGMA) annual conference in Ohio. 

Recognition, awards, and services

  • In 2020, the Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program was recognized with several awards and provided professional services in several areas.
  • One of the program scientists, Dr. Mohammed (Arif) Rahman, was awarded his second patent for his outstanding research work. 
  • The program was listed on the OSU Laboratory Safety Dean’s List.
  • Rafiq 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, Ohio Academy of Sciences, and OSU internal grants, as well as Fulbright fellowship proposals and more than 25 peer-reviewed journal articles.