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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

ARS Honors Scientist for Soil Nitrogen Research / February 9, 2005 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Michael P. Russelle
Michael P. Russelle

More about Russelle's research

ARS Honors Scientist for Soil Nitrogen Research

By Don Comis
February 9, 2005

National news release

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9—Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Michael P. Russelle has been named the 2004 "ARS Midwest Area Senior Research Scientist" for his soil nitrogen research.

Russelle received a plaque and cash award at U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters here today, and will receive additional research funding. The ARS Midwest Area comprises Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. ARS is the USDA's principal scientific research agency.

Russelle and geneticist JoAnn Lamb monitor cleanup of N spill by alfalfa:  Link to photo information
Ten years after the 1989 spill of 45,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer when a train derailed, Russelle (background) and geneticist JoAnn Lamb monitor biological cleanup by a unique type of alfalfa.
Read 1999 news story.

A soil scientist at the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn., Russelle is being honored for research to understand the soil nitrogen cycle as it pertains to legume crops such as soybean and alfalfa. "Dr. Russelle has made seminal contributions to science and technology," said Edward B. Knipling, ARS administrator.

These contributions include many firsts. For example, Russelle devised a way to use temperature--rather than time--to compare crop yields under different conditions, making it possible to identify differences masked by temperature responses.

In addition, he conducted studies to assess the regional impact of nitrogen fixation by alfalfa and soybeans, including mapping varying fixation rates across the entire Mississippi River Basin. These maps can help water quality experts and watershed managers determine candidate areas for application of manure to legume fields that would pose the least risk of nitrogen runoff. In related work, Russelle devised a test to help breeders select new legume varieties, to avoid fertilizer burn and damage.

His research also showed that alfalfa absorbs large amounts of nitrate, enabling its use in preventing, or cleaning up, nitrate-contaminated areas. For example, Russelle once used alfalfa to clean up a spill of carloads of ammonia from a train wreck in North Dakota. He also helped Minnesotans use alfalfa to keep nitrate out of well water.

Russelle earned a B.S. in agronomy in 1976 and an M.S. in crops science in 1978 from Oregon State University-Corvallis. In 1982, he completed a Ph.D. in agronomy, with a soils specialty, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In recognition of his contributions to improving the sustainablility of agriculture, Russelle was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy in 1997 and a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America in 2004. In 2000, he received an ARS certificate of merit for "Outstanding Technology Transfer." He earned three other certificates of merit between 1999 and 2003, one for "Superior Research Performance" and two for "Outstanding Research Performance."

Last Modified: 2/9/2005