Midwestern US has lost 57.6 billion metric tons of soil due to agricultural practices

Read the full story from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A new study in the journal Earth’s Future led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that, since Euro-American settlement approximately 160 years ago, agricultural fields in the midwestern U.S. have lost, on average, two millimeters of soil per year. This is nearly double the rate of erosion that the USDA considers sustainable. Furthermore, USDA estimates of erosion are between three and eight times lower than the figures reported in the study. Finally, the study’s authors conclude that plowing, rather than the work of wind and water, is the major culprit. 

U of I study maps lead in Chicago soils

Read the full story at Farm Week.

New soil sampling work from the University of Illinois and Illinois Extension revealed elevated lead in parkways and backyards across Chicago. Every sample measured lead above the naturally occurring level of 20 parts per million (ppm), according to the study. And the median value across the city’s parkways was 11 times that amount or 220 ppm.

Bioenergy sorghum’s roots can replenish carbon in soil

Read the full story from Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.

The world faces an increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a shortage of carbon in the soil. However, bioenergy sorghum can provide meaningful relief from both problems, according to a new study.

How you make a map of the trillions of miles of invisible fungus networks that give our soil life

Read the full story at Fast Company.

A network of mycelium runs through all the world’s dirt, helping plants grow and sequestering carbon. A massive citizen science project to visualize these ‘coral reefs of the soil’ is designed to help efforts to save it.

Livestock antibiotics and rising temperatures disrupt soil microbial communities

Read the full story from the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies.

Community ecologists investigated the interactive effects of rising temperatures and a common livestock antibiotic on soil microbes. The research team found that heat and antibiotics disrupt soil microbial communities — degrading soil microbe efficiency, resilience to future stress, and ability to trap carbon.

Soil study shows why nitrous oxide emissions should factor into climate change mitigation

Read the full story from Iowa State University.

Poorly drained agricultural soils emit enough of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide that the resulting climate change effects could far exceed the benefits of using the same soils as a means of sequestering carbon, according to a recently published scientific study.

The study, published Monday in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a range of agricultural soils produce nitrous oxide emissions in quantities big enough to contribute to climate change. The researchers compared soils with various moisture content and found agricultural soils are capable of high nitrous oxide emissions across a wide range of environmental conditions.

Kansas State University professor fights climate change with soil, carbon sequestration

Read the full story in the Kansas Reflector.

Rice described what he calls the “Holy Trinity” of soil health: More carbon in the soil means more food for the microbes that live in the soil. Good microbial activity produces nutrients that increase plant productivity while also promoting good soil structure. Soil structure is important in ensuring soils can better withstand weather extremes.

But storing more carbon in the soil doesn’t only help soil health and structure. It also plays a role in climate change.

How adding rock dust to soil could help get carbon into the ground

Read the full story at e360.

Researchers are finding that when pulverized rock is applied to agricultural fields, the soil pulls far more carbon from the air and crop yields increase. More studies are underway, but some scientists say this method shows significant benefits for farmers and the climate.

Bringing Europe’s soils back to life

This month’s Horizon Magazine takes a look at soils, a critical resource that is often overlooked, in every sense of the word. The stories include:

Smartphone cameras offer smallholder farmers promising new access to soil health knowledge

Read the full story from the African Plant Nutrition Institute.

The lack of adequate access to effective soil fertility testing in India, and much of the subtropical and tropical world, has led a group of scientists to explore how a smartphone camera might be transformed into a powerful and readily available alternative. Recently published in the Elsevier journal Biosystems Engineering, the research team describes important advances in the area of image-based soil organic matter (SOM) assessment and how it can streamline the process of evaluating soil fertility.