James S. Schepers
ARS Scientist Wins Award for Soil Research
Suszkiw February 9, 2005
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
S. Schepers studies to prevent fertilizer from escaping into
groundwater have earned him a top award from ARS, the
U.S. Department of Agricultures chief
in-house scientific research agency.
Schepers was named Northern Plains Area Senior Research
Scientist of 2004" by ARS, which will honor him and other award-winning
scientists at a ceremony here today at USDA headquarters. Schepers will receive
a plaque, a cash award and additional research funding. Schepers was cited for
outstanding achievement in the agencys
Plains Area, which includes Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North
Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
As research leader of ARS
and Water Conservation Research Unit in Lincoln, Neb., Schepers directs 27
scientists, support staff and graduate students in a range of studies aimed at
developing agricultural practices that enable farmers to both protect and
profit from their lands natural resources.
More about Schepers'
Soil scientist James
Schepers tests a remote sensing technique that checks for nitrogen stress in
corn plants, so high-canopy sprayers "know" how much liquid fertilizer to feed
Schepers achievements include a two-pronged approach to managing
nitrogen fertilizers to avoid overloading the soil with nitrate, a compound
that, if not used by crop plants, can leach into groundwater and pollute it.
The approachs first prong involves detecting the onset of
nitrogen-related stresses in the crop. The second prong involves remedial
action, giving the crop the nitrogen it needs using management practices that
protect both groundwater and the farmers profit margin.
To make this approach practical, Schepers led studies to develop a
portable, hand-held device to measure plant chlorophyll concentrations as a
measure of the crops vigor, or lack thereof due to nitrogen deficiencies.
The chlorophyll meters potential became apparent in the late 1990s with
the Nebraska Management Systems Evaluation Area program. The ARS-led project
showed that its possible to curb nitrate leaching without short-changing
corn yields by using fertigation, a method of applying variable rates of
nitrogen in irrigation water.
Currently, Schepers is coordinating a multi-state effort to
investigate automated crop monitoring. Rather than planes or satellites, this
remote-sensing technology makes use of electronic sensors perched atop
high-clearance crop canopy sprayers. To check for nitrogen stress, for example,
the sensors zap the crop with red light, which is absorbed by chlorophyll, and
then measure the amount of reflected light as an indication of plant
photosynthetic activity and vigor. The canopy sprayer uses the information to
dispense liquid fertilizer at variable, rather than fixed, rates of nitrogen.
In addition to his research achievements, Schepers is being honored
for his mentorship of graduate students, junior researchers and
foreign-exchange scientists, as well as providing technical expertise to
national and international organizations.
Schepers is the leading or contributing author on 81 peer-reviewed
publications. He is a member of the American
Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science
Society of America, the International Soil Science Society, Gamma Sigma
Delta, and Sigma Xi.
Schepers earned a B.S. degree in agronomy in 1968 and an M.S. in soil
chemistry in 1970 at the University of
Nebraska and a Ph.D. in soil chemistry at the
University of Illinois in 1973.
Schepers, a native Nebraskan, joined ARS in 1975 and lives in Lincoln with his