Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » El Reno, Oklahoma » Grazinglands Research Laboratory » Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #345491

Research Project: Uncertainty of Future Water Availability Due to Climate Change and Impacts on the Long Term Sustainability and Resilience of Agricultural Lands in the Southern Great Plains

Location: Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research

Title: Agricultural management impacts on soil health: methods for large spacial scales

Author
item Rottler, Caitlin
item Brown, David
item Steiner, Jean

Submitted to: Agricultural and Environmental Letters
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/19/2017
Publication Date: 11/30/2017
Citation: Rottler, C.M., Brown, D.P., Steiner, J.L. 2017. Agricultural management impacts on soil health: methods for large spacial scales. Agricultural and Environmental Letters. p. 1-4. https://doi:10.2134/ael2017.09.0034.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.2134/ael2017.09.0034

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture in the southern Great Plains of the United States is heavily dependent upon minimum thresholds of precipitation and temperature to maintain optimum productivity. The region’s climate and weather are variable, both intra- and inter-annually, presenting additional farming challenges that are predicted to become more severe with continued climate change. To increase their ability to persist into the future, farmers in this region have begun managing to build and conserve soil health, since healthy soils are more resilient to weather and climatic disturbances. Few studies have approached a comparison of soil health on soil-health-managed and conventionally managed farms at the regional scale. To better understand the effects of soil health management on rebuilding soil health across a range of temperature and precipitation, we have begun a study of farms at 12 locations across the southern plains. We initially piloted the study using three of the 12 locations, collecting soil samples from 5 pairs of fields at each location and analyzing them for a suite of biological, physical, and chemical indicators of soil health. Our objective was to test the suitability of our experimental framework, as well as identify additional soil health indicators or analyses of interest. Our experimental framework was generally suitable to our region and to the purpose of this study, and no significant changes to our framework are necessary. Furthermore, we identified a trend toward greater variation of soil organic matter concentration with depth in soil-health-managed soils than in conventionally managed soils. This could indicate that the soil-health-managed soils are developing soil organic matter concentrations similar to native soils, and we plan to explore this trend further in our full study.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture in the southern Great Plains of the United States is heavily dependent upon minimum thresholds of precipitation and temperature to maintain optimum productivity. The region’s climate and weather are variable, both intra- and inter-annually, presenting additional farming challenges that are predicted to become more severe with continued climate change. To increase their ability to persist into the future, farmers in this region have begun managing to build and conserve soil health, since healthy soils are more resilient to weather and climatic disturbances. Few studies have approached a comparison of soil health on soil-health-managed and conventionally managed farms at the regional scale. To better understand the effects of soil health management on rebuilding soil health across a range of temperature and precipitation, we have begun a study of farms at 12 locations across the southern plains. We initially piloted the study using three of the 12 locations, collecting soil samples from 5 pairs of fields at each location and analyzing them for a suite of biological, physical, and chemical indicators of soil health. Our objective was to test the suitability of our experimental framework, as well as identify additional soil health indicators or analyses of interest. Our experimental framework was generally suitable to our region and to the purpose of this study; while we did experience some challenges, no significant changes to our framework are necessary. Furthermore, we identified a trend toward greater variation of soil organic matter concentration with depth in soil-health-managed soils than in conventionally managed soils. This could indicate that the soil-health-managed soils are developing soil organic matter concentrations similar to native soils, and we plan to explore this trend further in our full study.