2014 Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources Program Achievements

By: Rafiq Islam, PhD, Soil and Water Specialist

The Ohio State University South Centers Soil, Water, and Bioenergy Resources program provides science-based applied knowledge, education and tools to regional, national and international clientele on sustainable management practices and agroecosystem services.

RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

Development of tools and technology

Ecosystem services (SOM) calculator

Farmers, educators and energy industry personnel need a simple and easy-to-use tool in order to understand how agricultural management practices influence agroecosystem services. We have developed the "ecosystem services calculator" for clientele, based on the impacts of energy feedstock production and stover removal under different management practices. The calculator predicts soil organic matter build-up and C trading, greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. CO2), nitrogen fertilization, and overall soil health. The tool also helps to calculate the revenue from residue sales. This tool has been loaded on the Soil, Water and Bioenergy website (http://www.southcenters.osu.edu/soil) and was acccessed worldwide, with more than 500 downloads. The tool is ready to convert into software for commercial use by farmers, educators, NRCS staff and other clientele. We are working with the OSU Licensing and Technology Deptartment for technology transfer and commercialization of the calculator.

Development of bio-polymers and bio-products

Management of phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) pollution from both farmland runoff and leaching has been a challenge to minimize water pollution and improve agroecosystem services. Lakes, streams and rivers in Ohio have become eutrophic with soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) and subsequently, polluted with toxic and nuisance algal blooms (e.g., Grand Lake St Mary’s). Similarly, Midwest agricultural

contribution of reactive N and P through the Mississippi river is responsible for algal blooms and anoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are actively researching with the funding support from Battelle and the Ohio Sea Grant on to develop efficient and dual-purpose adsorption materials for binding and retaining reactive P and N, based on quaternized biomass anion resin and cation exchange materials. Mixing of anionic biomass resin with cationic nanoporous zeolite will serve as the dual-purpose adsorption material and is expected to bind and retain both P and N (NH4+) simultaneously to minimize reactive P and N formation and loss with enhanced agroecosystem services.

 

Express soil quality test kit

We have modified our express soil quality field test kit for routine evaluation of field soil by farmers, Educators, crop advisors and citizens. The test kit was developed at the OSU South Centers several years ago. People from around the world have purchased our express soil quality test kit for instant measurement of soil quality, organic matter content, plant available N, biological activity, and soil tilth. The kit can also be used to help predict crop yields. Farmers typically spend at least $30/year for routine analysis of soil. Our soil quality test costs less than a $1 per year. Collectively, this test can help farmers to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year spent on commercial lab analysis We are working with the OSU Licensing and Technology Deptartment for patent application on our soil health test kit.

Applied Research: State, Regional and National Level

Sustainable soybean production and climate change mitigation

Using a research grant from United Soybean Board (USB) in collaboration with USDA-ARS Drainage Research in Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama, as well as Penn State University, and the University of Kentucky, we are conducting research to grow soybeans continuously and improve marginal lands with multifunctional cover crops and industrial waste products (flue gas desulfurized (FGD) gypsum). Our research results were presented at the Ohio Farm Science Review, the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, the National No-Till Conference, and the Farm Show in Pennsylvania with active participation of farmers and coal-based power industries. The production management approach based on holistic and novel integration cover crop and Gypsum in continuous NT has helped to increase soybean yield and expand production on marginal lands in the Midwest.

Sustainable organic production systems

Organic production is receiving world-wide attention with the growing demand for healthier foods. The outlook for continuing growth of US organic production is bright. The organic market continues to grow by 10% annually. In Ohio, there are over 500 certified food operations. Ohio produces 25% of the nation’s organic spelt, 8% of its corn silage, and about 3% of other organic produce. Total farm gate organic production is estimated as high as $75 million. However, current organic systems rely heavily on excessive tillage-based approaches, which are not ecologically harmonious and are also functionally inefficient. Ohio farmers have shown a great interest using cover crop blends to improve production and food quality, farm economics, and soil health. However, there are limited research activities focused on helping producers use appropriate cover crop blends to improve organic agroecosystem functionality and services.

We are impacting (by USDA-Organic Transition funded and CERES Trust funded projects) organic production research in Ohio using an innovative combination of no-till, multi-functional cover crop blends and vinegar (as a herbicide) to assess and maximize ecosystem services. Our 2014 research results have shown that several cover crop blends of winter pea, soybean, radish, carrot, oat, cereal rye, safflower, sun hemp, and pearl millet and Sudan-sorghum act as a weed suppressor, bio-diversifier, N provider, scavenger and recycler of nutrients, compaction alleviator, drainage improver, and soil builder.

Drainage ditches, BMP and reactive N and P recycling

Funded by a USDA-NIWQP project for 3 years, in association with the Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering department, our research project, "Integrated and Science-Based Management of Agricultural Drainage Channels in the Western Lake Erie Basin" is impacting farmers, educators, crop advisors, high-school students and scientists. Management of agricultural drainage channels to protect and improve water quality by mitigating sediment and reactive P and N pollution while meeting drainage needs is essential for agricultural production sustainability.

Renewable energy research

Currently, we are managing seven bioenergy experimental studies on corn, sweet sorghum (annual vs. perennial), sweet corn, Sudan-sorghum, Miscanthus giganteus, 6-warm-season grasses, hybrid willow, and Arundo donax. These projects were funded/collaborated by the NE Sun grant through the Department of Energy; Mendel Biotechnology, Inc. Hayward, CA; Repreve Renewables (Giant Miscanthus), Soperton, GA; Speedling, Inc. Ornamental and Energy Crop Divisions, Ruskin, FL; Konza Renewable Fuels, LLC, Meriden, KS; and New Polymer Systems, Inc., New Cannan, CT. We are still continuing research on these experiments.

Our long-term research results have shown that applying sewage sludge @ 5,000 gal and FGD gypsum @ 4 ton/acre significantly increased Miscanthus feedstock production (15 to 20 ton/acre) for cellulosic ethanol (~ 100 gal/ton of biomass) and a valuable use of the waste products (biopolymers or energy pellets). Furthermore, our research has shown promising to use Miscanthus giganteus biomass for controlling soil erosion in new construction areas rather than wheat biomass. Likewise, several biosolids treatment companies are working with us on using Miscanthus biomass as a core matrix for sewage sludge solidification.

Academic research (graduate studies)

Yogendra Raut (Yogi), Jim Hoorman and Michael Brooker, students in the Environmental Science Graduate studies program of the Ohio State University School of Natural Resources are conducting their Ph.D. research experiments at Piketon research sites and/or with us involvingour projects. Yogi is emphasizing his Ph.D. work on management of CRP land, Jim is conducting his Ph.D. research on reactive P and N fates in post-manure applied soil, and Mike is involved in Ph.D. research with us on soil biogeochemistry of under two-stage ditches.

Applied Research: International level

Over the years, the OSU South Centers has developed a national and international reputation in soil, water and bioenergy research. As a result, internationally funded graduate students, scientists, scholars and professionals as visiting students, scholars/post-docs from Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine, have joined our program for research and educational activities. In 2013-14, we have hosted 3 scientists from Turkey and Ghana as Fulbright scholar, a Tubitek scholar (Turkey Government), and a Norman Borlaug scholar. All of them have successfully completed their work and returned home. Drs. Ekrem Aksakal, Kenan Barik and Emmanuel Amoakwah had their high-quality research works published, and presented and displayed at the International Research Exposition of Ohio State University, World Food Prize Award, American Society of Agronomy/Soil Science Society of America/Crop Science Society of America, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Newsletter, and Monsanto Newsroom (http://news.monsanto.com/news/sustainability/world-food-prize-panel-highlights-impacts-climate-change-food-production, www.asa.org, www.fas.usda.gov).

Rafiq Islam, Alan Sundermeier and Jim Hoorman visited the Peoples Republic of China at the invitation of the Jiamusi Branch of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences from July 24, 2014 to August 5, 2014 to initiate collaborative research and educational programs with China. Based on our acquired experience on Chinese agricultural management practices and in-depth discussion, we set-up a long-term field research experiment entitled "Tillage and Cropping Systems Impact on Ecosystem Services" for academic and applied research activities at the research farm of the Jiamusi Branch of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences. We are expected to visit China every year to further strengthen our collaborative research and educational programs.

Extension Impact

State, regional and National level

We have organized several field days, train-the trainer workshops, and annual meetings/conferences at different locations in Ohio (6) and Michigan (1) on "Eco-farming, biodiversity and soil health: A systems approach to enhance organic and natural agro-ecosystem services" OFEEA (~ 100 participants), OSU organic field day at Harzel farm (~40 participants), farmer’s forum with NC-SARE (~ 76 participants), Piketon SWR field day (~ 65 participants), and Ohio no-till farmers association (~ 100 participants). At Kellogg Biological Research Station, University of Michigan, we organized a train-the trainer workshop (15 participants) on "Bioenergy feedstock production, ecosystem services, and bioenergy and bio-based products."

We have also actively involved and supported the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference and Ohio No-Till Farmers Association annual meetings. We have delivered 25 presentations, published 6 peer-reviewed papers and several newspaper articles.

International level

We participated in two international meetings and workshops. One of the workshops was held July 28-29, 2014 at Jiamusi with the Chinese National Academy of Sciences on sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services. We have outreached to more than 60 professors, farmers, educators and scientists in China. As part of our participation, we delivered two presentations, one on "Developing educational and research collaboration" between the Ohio State University and the Chinese National Academy of Sciences and another one on "Sustainable Agriculture and Ecosystem Services." This year, our farm manager, Wayne Lewis and I will visit China. Wayne is expected to provide hands-on demonstration and training to Chinese technicians for maintenance of farm equipment and sustainable farming practices.

Results from our experiments were presented at the 2014 Balkan Congress. I delivered 2 professional presentations at the meeting. Our Fulbright fellows, Drs. Celal Yucel and Derya Yucel delivered 2 professional presentations and four poster presentations on Extension and demonstration research.