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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research » Research » Research Project #435534

Research Project: Optimizing Water Use Efficiency for Environmentally Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems in Semi-Arid Regions

Location: Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research

Project Number: 3012-12210-001-005-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Sep 15, 2017
End Date: Sep 1, 2022

The overall objectives are: 1) Conduct a critical review of the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) scoring functions using a meta-analysis of scientific literature and published databases, as well as other data sources; 2) add new scoring functions for additional indicators based on a thorough review of relevant data available in the literature; 3) explore opportunities to leverage the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) framework’s approach to communicating interpretations and supporting management decisions; 4) enhance the input interface for the SMAF, and 5) develop scoring curves for deeper soil profile depth increments; and incorporate soil erosion models into an operationally consistent, site-specific Soil Health Assessment Protocol with Erosion (SHAPE – may be renamed) tool that can be used by NRCS conservation planners to assess the current status of a field’s soil health and guide selection and implementation of soil health management systems.

Currently, phospholipid-derived-fatty-acids (PLFA) is the commercially available method used to evaluate soil microbial community structure as an indicator of soil health. A comparable method that is quicker and less expensive is the total ester linked fatty acids (EL-FAME) method but no comparison in relation to soil health has been made. Leveraging the sampling efforts, a subsample was archived in the event that funding presented itself to run this comparison. The ARS lab in Lubbock, TX has offered to run the EL-FAME on approximately 400 soils sampled as part of the study and previously analyzed for PLFA. This comparison would provide valuable insight as to the advantages/disadvantages including the economics of these competing methods as well as their utility to distinguish different management practices. Given the similarity in the two methods, it is within reason that labs currently offering PLFA could switch to EL-FAME if the method proves to be more economical and provide similar or better information about the soil microbial community.