On February 17th, the Land & Water iCAP team met to discuss the details of a permeable pavers recommendation. The team then split off into breakout rooms to organize future soil and water committee initiatives.
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- 4.4 Monitor Soil Health
- iCAP 2020: Illinois Climate Action Plan
Key Objective: 4.4 Monitor Soil Health
The iCAP 2020, objective 4.4 is: “Monitor soil health by collecting soil analyses for all South Farms land parcels by FY24.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is ACES. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Monitor Soil Health.
As we take steps like planting cover crops to improve farm sustainability and resiliency, we must take an adaptive approach to soil quality monitoring. This ensures that we are making informed decisions and implementing productive solutions.
As is the case for many iCAP objectives, data analysis begins with data collection. Our key metric is the number of land parcels for which we are able to obtain soil measurements. Two options for achieving this objective are outlined here:
Collect soil samples using LabCore
Many university researchers take soil samples from the South Farms on a regular basis. Therefore, the most efficient method for compiling soil data into LabCore — a farm data collection, archiving, and geographic information system (GIS) platform — involves soliciting information from these individuals. If scientists are able to provide georeferenced points for their sample sites, that information can be used to create comprehensive maps to augment standard USDA Soil Survey data. This also allows the tracking of organic matter in the soil, which is pivotal to carbon sequestration. In addition to providing a real-time aerial overview of soil health across the South Farms, implementing a GIS platform allows geographical tracking of activities that might influence soil health. Over time, novel correlations can be developed to link soil health with carbon reductions.
Equally important to collecting soil samples is creating a publicly accessible information hub where scientists can both contribute and retrieve free, non-proprietary data. Ideally, a benefit of using LabCore is an expedited process and minimized need for arduous field research to manually obtain soil samples.
Tile drainage with soil analytics capabilities
A second method for collecting soil health data and conducting subsequent analyses is installing a tile drainage system with a soil analytics component.
Certain Energy Farm plots currently possess such tile systems, which monitor nitrate loss and collect aggregated soil nutrient information. We propose to replicate some of these strategies at diverse South Farms locations (e.g., distributed in conventionally tilled or no-till fields; with or without cover crops; annual or perennial crops, etc.) to compare nutrient loss based on management style. The tiles would be located on the edges of their respective farms, so that nutrient loss out of South Farms boundaries (and into critical waterways) can be closely monitored. This approach aligns with previous iCAP goals and facilitates quantification of land management changes and the impact of changing rainfall patterns over time.
The strategies implemented to achieve this objective will build a strong foundation for the campus’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, our long-term plan to optimize nutrients regularly applied to crops in order to prevent chemical runoff into U.S. waterways. The interconnectedness of statewide, national, and global land and water systems is proof that public, private, and university-operated agricultural units must act as one to address widespread soil and water health concerns.
As a leader in the development of novel agricultural management and technological approaches, the university is poised to provide a “pilot program” in our nutrient loss reduction efforts and provide a model for sustainable land management that other academic and agricultural communities can apply to their own practices.
Emily Heaton has a grad student working on collecting existing soil records, analyzing them, and developing recommendations. yay!