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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #303835

Title: Soil and water conservation: Our history and future challenges

item Karlen, Douglas
item PETERSON, GARY - Colorado State University
item WESTFALL, DWAYNE - Colorado State University

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/8/2014
Publication Date: 9/26/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Karlen, D.L., Peterson, G.A., Westfall, D.G. 2014. Soil and water conservation: Our history and future challenges. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78:1493-1499.

Interpretive Summary: Being able to sustainably meet increasing global demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel resources coupled with increasingly variable weather patterns will require new research approaches to solve wicked problems for which there is no single or correct answer. Fortunately, scientists and engineers affiliated with the Soil and Water Management and Conservation Division of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) are well poised to meet this challenge. This manuscript summarizes Division history and philosophical changes in the type of research that will be required to meet this challenge. The information will be of interest to SSSA members and others affiliated with the organization. It will also be useful for industry, government, and university representatives responsible for planning, developing, and guiding long-term research programs.

Technical Abstract: Remembering our past is an essential first step into the future. Building upon that philosophy, our objective is to summarize two presentations from a 2012 Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) symposium focused on soil management challenges in response to climate change in order to examine: (1) how the Soil and Water Management and Conservation Division evolved, (2) how soil management research approaches have changed since the Division was founded, and (3) how Division scientists are helping an increasing global population respond to a dynamic and changing climate. Our Division roots and much of soil science in general were literally and figuratively grounded in field research. Herein, we examine the transition from field-scale observational to reductionist research approaches, discuss the inadequacies of the latter approach for addressing landscape-scale, cropping system response to climate change, and suggest a new soil management research approach for our future. The evolution, challenges, and success of a four-factor landscape-scale/cropping system study in the U.S. Great Plains and selected other systems projects are used to illustrate the proposed approach. We conclude with optimism that by identifying new funding priorities and approaches, SSSA scientists and engineers will be able to help solve several complex and wicked 21st century natural resource problems associated with a dynamic and changing climate and a population of more than nine billion people.