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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Raleigh, North Carolina » Plant Science Research » Research » Research Project #445768

Research Project: Quantifying Soil Organic Carbon on Cotton Farms throughout the Southeastern United States and Texas

Location: Plant Science Research

Project Number: 6070-21600-001-010-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jan 1, 2024
End Date: Dec 31, 2024

1. Quantify actual stocks of SOC on private farms in the southeastern U.S. that have been or are in early transition towards more conservation-based agricultural production based on the principles of soil health management. 2. Develop statistical associations among SOC stock, soil health condition, historical cotton production estimates, and outputs of sustainability predicted from the Fieldprint Calculator of the Field to Market, as affected by management choices. 3. Characterize the suite of management practices that have the most potential for conserving natural resources while optimizing agricultural productivity output. Benefits of these analyses are expected (a) on the farm with improvement in soil health condition and potential for ecosystem market development, and (b) to the public through social and environmental co-benefits.

Cotton growers throughout the southeastern U.S. will be contacted for collaboration. The intent will be to identify those growers having adopted conservation management using well-established soil health principles. Identification will be through contact of principal investigators with other investigators, university extension specialists, and NRCS agents throughout the region. Once identified, one to several fields on that farm will be sampled and the associated management history will be recorded with an interview with the farmer. A paired approach to obtain at least one sample from a neighboring farm in the locality with similar soil type will be part of the process. Within a particular “ecoregion node” (i.e., cluster of one to several neighboring counties with similar characteristics), our intent will be to sample a number of farms having different lengths of time of conservation management adoption, different crop rotation sequences with peanut and cotton as a key component of the rotation, and as part of the paired approach to have different land cover types (e.g., disk-till cropland, no-till cropland, managed pasture, and hardwood and pine woodlands). On a yearly basis, the intent will be to sample approximately 24 fields within each of at least three “ecoregion nodes” in the region. Over the course of four years of this project, at least 12 “ecoregion nodes” will be sampled. Sampling within an “ecoregion node” may continue over the course of several years as needed to obtain a large enough range of field characteristics to make strong inferences about the effect of management on SOC stock change. Project investigators will review the approach following the first year to determine if modifications in the approach are needed. However, based on an ancillary project conducted in North Carolina over the winter of 2020/21, a total of 310 fields from 25 public research station properties managed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and North Carolina State University were sampled in a similar manner, giving clear evidence the sampling process is technically possible. Projected sampling of ecoregion nodes might follow the following schedule: 2024 Coastal Plain of NC, SC, GA, AL, and MS; Flatwoods of NC, SC, and GA