NC_old1178: Land use and management practice impacts on soil carbon and associated agroecosystems services

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NC_old1178: Land use and management practice impacts on soil carbon and associated agroecosystems services

Duration: 10/01/2019 to 09/30/2024

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Soils play important functions in sustaining crop productivity, maintaining plant, animal and human health, and providing various ecosystem services. However, intensive management practices, land use conversions, and climate impact soils and crop production. Therefore, there is strong need to maintain and improve the soil quality, and increase productivity while minimizing the negative impacts on the environment. Soil organic carbon (SOC) is key to various soil functions. It has been reported that upon conversion from natural to agricultural systems, soils lose 42% of their native C pool (Guo and Gifford, 2002). This can be partially mitigated by practices that enhance sequestering SOC. Enhancement of the SOC pool can be achieved through sequestering of atmospheric CO2; it also reduces net emission of radiatively-active gases (greenhouse gases or GHG) into the atmosphere, and improves the quality of soil and water resources. However, sequestering this C has also been challenged by problems such as intensive soil tillage and associated problems such as soil compaction and soil erosion. This project will focus on improving the soil C through sustainable use of differing conservation practices, for example, no-tillage (NT), organic farming, mixed cover crops, and residue mulch. When crop residue is removed from soil coupled with intensive tillage, there is increased potential for soil erosion, reduction in SOC pools, and deterioration of soil properties, resulting in a subsequent decline in soil quality, reduction in crop yield, and decrease in local and regional water quality (Simpson et al., 2008). Thus, a protective cover or residue mulch under reduced or no tillage practices helps in improving the soil properties and reducing the soil erosion. This project will develop improved management practices including integrating livestock production systems (for example, improved grazing), and determine their influences on soils and environmental quality. 

Crosson (1984) estimated a monetary loss in the U.S. from soil erosion due to reduced cropland productivity to be $40 million in a given year. In 2001, den Biggelaar et al. (2001) estimated the loss at $55.6 million. Others, Crosson (1986) and Pimentel et al. (1995), have estimated the loss to be over $100 million. The results vary depending on the erosion rates, climate, and crop prices for the years covered in the study. For many soils, continued erosion results in degraded and reduced topsoil thickness. Reduced crop yields occur as root restrictive layer, such as fragipan, subsoil horizons with a large amount of clay, or coarse sand become closer to the soil surface (Langdale et al., 1985). Offsite damages to the environment caused by soil erosion and subsequent deposition of sediments in the U.S. are considerable (Pimentel, 1992). Deposition of eroded soil materials in surface water bodies such as reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and streams cause a decline in water quality, reduce environmental quality, and decrease the functional life expectancy of reservoirs. Eroded sediments often contain not only soil materials from the organic surface soil, which are enriched in nutrients and C, but often include commercial and/or organic (animal waste) fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural pharmaceuticals (from animal waste). Management practices such as cover crops and no-till systems improve SOC, which is one of the critical indicators of development of soil physical, chemical, and biological properties (Blanco-Canqui et al., 2013). If management practices increase SOC, the physical, chemical, and biological properties are positively affected, and vice versa. Many of the soils of the North Central region possess silty surface textures which are naturally more susceptible to physical degradation and reduction in SOC pools. Decline in soil organic C concentration and deterioration of soil structural properties as a result of tillage and land use conversion can be significant. 

Soil is a finite resource. The average soil erosion rate in the United States is 10.3 Mg ha-1 or 0.08 cm of top soil loss annually (National Resources Inventory, 2012). Of this, 6.0 Mg ha-1 is caused by water, 4.3 Mg ha-1 by wind. However, the average annual soil formation rate around the world is only 0.54 Mg ha-1 or 0.004 cm of top soil annually (Alexander, 1998). Thus, managing for soil health has long-term implications for agroecosystem sustainability, productivity, and environmental quality (Karlen et al., 1997). Yet, most farming practices decisions only consider short-term goals based machinery operation, creating an ample seed bed, and application of fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides to maximize immediate grain or forage yields. These factors in conjunction with varying seasonal temperatures, water availability, and market demand determine which crop to plant, tillage system to use, and the farm’s potential productivity.

The management of soil health is generally overlooked during the farm management planning process. Nonetheless, it is essential in protecting and sustaining long-term soil productivity from destructive and unbalanced management practices such as intensive tillage and excessive application of chemicals that lead to soil and water quality degradation (Doran, 2002; Lal et al., 1998). Soil health refers to self-regulation, resistance, resilience, and lack of stress symptoms (e.g. compaction, low nutrients, lack of biological activity) in a soil as an ecosystem (Weil and Brady, 2016). Self-regulation refers to an ecosystem that can cycle its own nutrients and sustain high productivity with very little external inputs as done for millennia in native (undisturbed) prairies and forest ecosystems. Soil resistance is the capacity of the soil system to continue to function without change throughout a disturbance (Seybold et al., 1999). Soil resilience is the capacity of a soil to recover after disturbance (Seybold et al., 1999). Instances of soil disturbance include, fire, tillage, flooding, drought, and over-grazing.

The key to increasing the soil’s resilience against stressful climate conditions is to build or maintain soil health by improving the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil. Soil physical properties provide the structure in which plant roots and soil organisms live. Healthy soils have granular and aggregated soil structure that allow for water and air to move through the soil and be stored in the soil. Soil aggregates are primarily formed in three ways: i) by polyvalent cations like calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), and aluminum (Al3+) binding together clay particles, ii) fungal hyphae and fine roots stabilizing aggregates, and iii) cementation of soil particles by organic glues created by fungi and bacteria decomposing organic matter, and by exudates from roots (Six et al., 2002). Managing soil physical health requires reducing soil erosion, compaction, tillage intensity, and removal of vegetation while increasing organic matter and soil organisms’ activity. Soil chemical properties ensure the supply of nutrients for plants and soil organisms uptake. Some elements and chemical compounds at adequate quantities are essential for plant growth, such as nitrate (NO3-), ammonium (NH4+), orthophosphate (H2PO4-), potassium (K+), sulfate (SO42-) and Ca2+. Other elements and chemical compounds are not essential and may be toxic at high concentrations, such as aluminum toxicity, salinity, heavy metals, and acidity. Managing soil chemical health requires balancing soil pH (affects the availability of elements), controlling the release of nutrients from organic matter and fertilizers, and avoiding use of chemicals harmful to beneficial soil organisms. Pesticides are used to decimate unwanted pest that cause yield losses, but also have unattended negative consequence on beneficial insects and non-target plants (Desneux et al., 2007). Excessive fertilizer and manure applications can also result in N and P surplus to accumulate in soil, some of which is transported to aquatic ecosystems initiating eutrophication (Carpenter et al., 1998). Soil biological properties encourage active communities of soil organisms essential to healthy soils. Soil microorganisms play key roles in nutrient acquisition (mycorrhizal fungi), N cycling (rhizobia, actinomycetes, free-living bacteria), C cycling (mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, decomposing fungi) and soil formation (Van Der Heijden et al., 2008). They may also play a role in suppression of disease causing organisms and influencing the degradation of pollutants (Singh et al., 2011). However, more research is needed in linking biological soil health with productivity. For instance, a study in South Dakota has shown that crops grown in a no-till system (higher microbial activities) may be expected to resist low available P as well as other stresses better than crops in conventionally tilled soils (Carpenter-Boggs et al., 2003). Management of soil biological health requires maintaining or increasing soil organic matter (SOM), balancing soil acidity and salinity as well as good soil structure and aeration.

SOM can be used as an overall soil health indicator since it influences the physical, chemical and biological properties of soils. SOM consists of living and decaying plant residues and roots, living and decaying soil biota, and soil humus (stable decomposed organic matter). Managing for SOM to improve soil health requires adaption of soil conservations practices. However, farmers need more incentives then just improving soil health. Figure 1 demonstrates how soil conservation practices can concurrently increase SOM and productivity. In summary, increasing plant diversity and intensification results in:

  • higher biomass and grain production;

  • increases in abundance and diversity in soil fauna and microbial communities;

  • breaks up weed and pest cycles (reduces herbicide and insecticide inputs);

  • increases water use efficiency; and,

  • allows for incorporation of livestock into cropping systems.

Secondly, minimizing soil disturbance (i.e. no-tillage) to slow down the breakdown of SOM and always having something growing or at least keeping the ground covered (i.e. cover crops) results in:

  • higher organic matter accumulation;

  • greater water conservation;

  • reduces operation costs such as labor, fuel, machinery;

  • provides habitats for wildlife and beneficial insects; and,

  • aids in recovering of salt affected soils.

 Figure 1. System approach for improving soil health and productivity (Al-Kaisi, 2017). 

Investing in soil health goes beyond a farmer’s field. Lal et al., (2007) demonstrate that having soils in poor health lowers global food production, declines food security, limits economic options, directly affects human health, generates significant greenhouse gas emissions, and pollutes water resources. The same report also states that the prevention of soil degradation is much more cost effective than trying to restore degraded soils back to their original productivity. For farmers in NC region to improve sustainability and productivity on their land in the long-term, attention must be given on how soils can be managed to:

  • mitigate the effects of changing climate conditions (i.e. improve soil structure to increase water conservation);

  • produce more with less land and rising input cost (i.e. fertilizers and fuel); and,

  • adapting soil conservation practices to reduce further degradation of soil health.

Previous work by members of NC-174, NC-1017 and NC-1178 has demonstrated the importance of storing SOC (through increasing organic matter) for improving soil quality, including soil physical properties such as improved water holding capacity (Al-Kaisi et al., 2015; Guzman and Al-Kaisi, 2011; Lal, 1999). However, a strong connection between soil erosion and the global C balance has not been well established. There is also a need for developing sound methodology for obtaining a quantitative estimate of the actual distribution of soil C on various eroded and non-eroded landscapes in the Midwest. Also, there is a need to examine the alternative of intensified agroecosystems as a source for renewable fuel feedstock.  It was recognized during the Kyoto Protocol that net emissions of greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and CH4 could be decreased by either reducing emissions or by increasing the rate of C sequestration or retention in soils. Agricultural soils are one of the largest reservoirs of C, and thus have a great potential to mitigate the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (FAO, 2001). Evaluation of the C pool in soils is difficult because of its heterogeneity in time and space (FAO, 2001). The global loss of C because of erosion is estimated to be in the range of 150 to 1500 million tons per year (Lal, 1995; Gregorich et al., 1998; Lal, 2003) but the processes are not well understood. Erosion is a selective process involving detachment and transport of the light soil fraction consisting of SOC and clay (Sharpley, 1985). The fate of eroded soil particles is complex depending on many parameters including soil properties, landscape elements and properties, drainage net and soil management. Many of the soil particles eroded are moved down slope and may remain in the same field or watershed for a considerable length of time (Olson et al., 2016a; Olson et al., 2016b).  However, this movement results in increased spatial variability of soil properties across the landscape, especially soil organic matter and those elements of environmental concern that are associated with it - carbon and nitrogen (Schumacher et al., 1999).


This proposal outlines a project designed to help better understand changes in soil quality including soil degradation resulting from various crop management practices and the impact of intensified agroecosystems on soil health and soil carbon dynamics. It will also provide needed data on the changes in the soil C reservoir related to intensive land use for some of the major soils in the North Central region. This study will contribute to our understanding of soil-landscape processes with the potential to provide data that will contribute to improved management of our soil and water resources. We view this approach as a natural progression related to the past research efforts of NC-174, NC-1017, and NC-1178. Knowledge gained from the proposed research will contribute to a more quantitative understanding of the effects of intensified agroecosystem management on global C balance; erosional processes; the amounts and landscape distribution of C and organic matter; and changes in soil quality. The proposed regional research project will provide information that can be used to enable sustainable management of natural resources in different ecosystems, over the varying climates and soil landscapes that occur in the participating states. The findings from this project can provide baseline information on soil sustainability impacted by possible climate change such as increased intense rainfall events, decreased total precipitation, and increased temperatures.  In addition, this project will address a wide range of landscape and cropping systems in the Midwest that include row crop production and integration of livestock.  It is unique that it will focus on the impact of intensive management practices (i.e., tillage and row corps) and potential impact on soil health and water quality. The work of this project will expand the work of the predecessors ot this project over the past four decades that has had significant impact in terms of scholarly research and prolific production of publications in the promotion of conservation production systems that promote soil health.  This project continues to assemble a wide range of expertise coupled with a long-term continuum of members and participants to provide a platform for new researchers to develop research that addresses evolving issues in food production and environmental quality.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Previous Accomplishments: 

Past and future NC-1178/NC-1017/NC-TEMP-1017/NC-174/NCT-199 research efforts are summarized in Table 1 (see attached). The sequence represents a natural progression from studying soil productivity-erosion relationships to determining C distributions, dynamics and sequestration, and changing management in eroded landscapes.

During the first 5-year phase of the NC-174 project (1983-1988) we identified and documented the effects of erosion on soil properties and corn or small grain yield for research sites located in 11 states (Table 1). Five years of data were collected to better document the effects of weather on the interaction between soil properties and corn yield in the north central United States. First phase achievements included 13 refereed journal articles and chapters in books. Once the database was enlarged, emphasis was placed on selection of management and restoration alternatives at either the initial or a new research site (Table 1, phase 2). The NTRM (Nitrogen, Tillage, Residue and Management) and EPIC (Erosion-Productivity Impact Calculator) models were used in conjunction with the existing data base collected during the initial phase of the NC-174 project to identify factors limiting crop productivity of each soil series investigated. The models were used to evaluate long-term effect of management and restoration alternatives prior to field testing.

The second phase (Table 1) of the project (1988-1993) was to field test the practices selected to maintain or enhance current productivity and to determine the extent to which productivity of eroded soils can be restored. Phase 2 outputs included 25 journal articles and chapters in books.

The third phase (Table 1) of the project (1993-1998) determined threshold soil property values for the restoration of productivity and quality of eroded soils to initial levels. Third phase accomplishments included 74 refereed journal articles and chapters in books.

During the fourth phase (Table 1) of the project, from 1998 to 2003, we examined the erosional and landscape impacts on soil processes and properties as well as assessed the management effects on eroded soil productivity and the quality of soil, air, and water resources. Achievements during phase 4 of the project included 70 refereed journal articles and chapters in books.

In the fifth phase (2004-2009) (Table 1) the main focus was on C distribution and sequestration within the landscape. This focus was integrated with the previous phase by examining the impact of management and erosion on C distribution within the landscape and related to soil quality and productivity. Fifth phase achievements included 84 refereed journal articles and chapters in books. The fifth phase included representation external to the North Central region including participants from Guam and Manitoba.

The sixth phase (2009-2014) (Table 1) builds on previous achievements by examining the role of crop residue removal on factors affecting crop productivity and carbon sequestration. The findings from these studies are being linked to existing studies that relate management and erosion on C distribution within the landscape to soil properties associated with soil quality and productivity.  The sixth phase achievements include 70 refereed journal articles and book chapters.

The seventh phase (2014-2019) (Table 1) built on work and achievements from the sixth phase but also included the impacts of utilizing cover crops and perennial crops in intensifying land use in agronomic systems that are being included in biofuels production.  This work evaluated the impacts of continuous biomass removal on soil C distribution and soil properties that impact land management and soil erosion on landscapes common to the region.  At this time, the seventh phase achievements include 78 refereed journal articles, 1 monograph and 5 book chapters.

The proposed eight phase (2019-2023) continues building on the seventh and previous phases by including a broader approach to include soil health and productivity and the environmental footprints related to intensified agroecosystems.

Related Work:

There is currently only one multistate project that is related to our proposed project.  This project is NCERA-059 (Soil Organic Matter: Formation, Function and Management).

NCERA-059 is an unfunded committee that does not coordinate joint research across participants. The objectives of NCERA-059 are broad and diverse. These include: 1) Coordinating research collaborations and information exchange on the biochemistry, biological transformations, and physical/chemical fractions of soil organic matter; 2) Identifying and evaluating indicators that can be used to assess soils as a resource for ecosystems services; 3) Conducting outreach activities to scientists in relate disciplines and practitioners to promote the ecological management of soils, including practices that repair or sustain functionally important SOM fractions in both managed and undisturbed systems; 4) Co-sponsoring symposia at national and international meetings; and 5) Interacting with other regional committees. NC-1178 currently has one individual who is also a member of NCERA-059. The two multistate committees have been in communication with each other and have jointly participated in combined meetings in the past.

At the present time, nationally, there is one project that has some relationship to our proposed project. These is NCCC-211 (Cover crops to improve agricultural sustainability and environmental quality in the upper Midwest).  NCCC-211 is an unfunded coordinating committee with focus on the North Central Region.  Its objectives include: 1) assess the impact of cover crops on agronomic production and profitability; 2) assess the impact of cover crops on water quality; 3) develop recommendations for plantings of cover crops (rates, timing, application methods) across production systems and across the North Central Region; 4), evaluate the benefit of cover crops as a dual-use crop (i.e. potentially harvested); and , 5) work with state and federal agencies, crop consultants, and seed dealers and other agricultural businesses to assist in implementation and demonstration of successful cover crop management practices.  The NCCC-211 Committee also works closely with the Midwest Cover Crops Council. The objectives of our project does not overlap with those of NCCC-211 but rather complements their objectives particularly their Objectives 2, 3 and 4 in that it will evaluates soil and water impacts by cover crops in much greater detail.  One of our committee members currently is a participant in NCCc-211.

Other regional projects that could potentially relate to this project are NC-1182 (Management and Environmental Factors Affecting Nitrogen Cycling and Use Efficiency in Forage-Based Livestock Production Systems), and NC1195 (Enhancing Nitrogen Utilization in Corn Based Cropping Systems to Increase Yield, Improve Profitability and Minimize Environmental Impacts).  However, these projects are narrowly focused on specific crops or crop uses and have on agronomic production practices or conceptual models as their central objective.  Neither of these focus on the soil as a catalyst for crop production and environmental quality as does our project.


  1. Evaluate the impact of intensifying agroecosystems (e.g. increased crop rotations/double cropping, and management integration) on soil organic C, soil health, productivity, the environment, and profitability. (MI, SD, ND, FL, IA, GU, KS)
  2. Assess management effects (e.g. crop residue, tillage, cover crops,) on soil organic C, environmental footprints (e.g. GHG emissions, water quality, water quantity, soil erosion, input use efficiency), and productivity. (SD, ND, FL, MN, IA, GU, SC, KS)


Objective 1. Evaluate the impact of intensifying agroecosystems (e.g. increased crop rotations/double cropping, and management integration) on soil organic C, soil health, productivity, the environment, and profitability

Every state will participate in the Objective 1. It is recommended that each participating state, a minimum of one intensified agroecosystem mentioned above in the objective will be sampled. For most states the least disturbed ecosystem will be native grass or timber, depending on the location in the NC and other Multi-State regions. The other site will be an intensively managed agroecosystem used for continuous row crop or corn-soybean system, and the integration of cover crops or perennial grasses within the study design.

All treatments will be established, if possible, in a randomized completed block design, with a minimum of three plots (replications) per treatment. Initial (baseline) soil C data will be collected prior to treatment establishment (Olson, 2013). Three soil cores should be collected from center of each plot/treatment with a 120-cm long, 6-cm diameter solid steel sampling tube containing a 5.7-cm acetate contamination liner to a recommended minimum depth of 1 meter (sampling depth may depend on thickness of soil root zone and presence or absence of carbonates). In the laboratory, the cores will be cut into 5-cm, 15-cm, or 30-cm sections and core bulk density will be determined on each section. Each core section will constitute one soil sample. The soils will be air-dried and crushed to pass a 2-mm screen. The soil profiles will be described using standard procedures and sampled as described above.

Particle-size analysis, pH, bulk density, total C, particulate organic matter (POM), and SIC (if carbonates are present) or SOC (if carbonates are not present), and moisture at time of sampling will be completed for each sample. A minimum of three cores will be collected per treatment to compensate for soil variability within the local study area. No less than two cores will be collected per treatment to account for variability. Preference will be given to section the cores by defined depth increments rather than by horizon because it is simpler to later compile the data to calculate C mass in the soil. Horizons are not the same thickness from plot to plot or treatment-to-treatment. The depth increments will not be less than 5-cm and will be selected based on the soils and treatments being studied. Ideally, the first one or two increments from the surface should be 5-cm because of the expected rapidly changing differences due to management practices. Deeper in the profile, the increments will be at least 15-cm. Addition of cover crops and perennials to intensified agroecosystems may have more rapidly change concentration of labile C fractions or POM than on total C, a detailed characterization of SOC components will be done. Analysis of coarse and fine POM will be performed on the whole soil and aggregates following the procedures outlined by Cambardella and Elliot (1992). All the cores collected from a given study will have the same depth increments for ease of comparing treatment effects. Approximately 10-15 g subsamples will be further ground to pass a 100 mesh screen for C analysis. The C content of soils will be adjusted for soil bulk density and reported as kg C /m3 or Mg C/ha/m if sampled to 1 meter and as kg C /m2/ root zone depth or Mg C/ha/root zone depth if carbonates are present. A procedure manual will be developed to accommodate regional soil (such as presence or absence of carbonates) and weather differences to insure as much uniformity in sampling procedure and laboratory analyses as possible. These procedures collect fundamental information on soil factors that are required to determine soil health. 

The impact of different agroecosystem treatments on several soil parameters and soil quality indicators such as, soil surface physical properties The impact of cover crops, grazing, diverse rotations on soil surface physical properties including cone index, infiltration, air permeability, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and wet aggregate stability will be evaluated for the control. The surface air permeability will be measured with an air permeameter (Ball and Schjonning, 2002; Grover, 1955). Surface soil saturated hydraulic conductivity will be measured with a tension infiltrometer (Clothier and Scotter, 2002; Wooding, 1968; Lowery and Morrison, 2002). A minimum of three of each of these measurements of soil physical properties will be made in each plot. Data from physical property measurements will be analyzed with appropriate statistical method(s). In addition, other soil quality indicators such soil aggregate stability (Guzman and Al-Kaisi, 2011) and microbial biomass C (Horwath and Paul, 1994) will be determined.  It is recommended that soil samples for aggregate stability be collected for the top 15 cm using golf course cutter of 15 cm long and 15 cm in diameter (Guzman and Al-Kaisi, 2011).  The soil will sieved through 8-mm sieve at filed moisture condition and left to air dry on brown paper.  Aggregate fractions can be separated by wet sieving or dry sieving with set of sieves range between 4 to 0.053 mm in diameter.  Soil C can be evaluated for each fraction size.  Aggregate associated C must be based on sand-free fraction by determining sand content for each aggregate faction size.  The soil samples for microbial biomass will be collected for the top 15 cm.  Soil samples can be collected using hand probe.  The soil samples should be kept in 4o C if they are not processed immediately in the same day.  Soil samples must be processed the next day by removing the soil samples from the cold storage to the laboratory and sieve soil samples through 2 mm sieve. Microbial biomass C will be determined by using the procedure by Horwath and Paul (1994).

Objective 2.  Assess management effects (e.g. crop residue, tillage, cover crops,) on soil organic C, environmental footprints (e.g. GHG emissions, water quality, water quantity, soil erosion, input use efficiency), and productivity.

All states will participate in Objective 2. In each participating state, a minimum of one agroecosystem (e.g., cover crops, integrated crop-livestock system, diverse rotations) with contrasting ecosystems but similar soil-landscape relationships will be sampled. For most states the least disturbed ecosystem will be native grass or timber, depending on the location in the NC and other Multi-State regions. The other site will be an intensively managed agroecosystem used for continuous row crop or wheat production. Soil sampling and soil analytical procedures used for Objective 1 will also be used for this objective.

Greenhouse gas (GHG-CO2, N2O and CH4) emissions rates will be measured following sampling protocol of GRACEnet Chamber-based Trace Gas Flux Measurement (Parkin and Venterea, 2010). Two PVC rings (30 cm diameter and 10 cm tall) will be installed in each plot to a depth of approximately 6 cm. In each plot one ring will be placed directly in the plant row. The other ring will be placed between plant rows. Flux measurements will be performed by placing vented chambers (30 cm diameter and 10 cm tall) on the PVC rings and collecting gas samples 0, 30, and 60 min following chamber deployment. At each time point chamber headspace gas samples (10 mL) will be collected with polypropylene syringes and immediately injected into evacuated glass vials (6 mL) fit with butyl rubber stoppers. GHG concentrations in samples will be determined with a gas chromatography (GC) instrument.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Enhanced understanding of soil-landscape processes thus contributing to improved management of soil and water resources.
  • Documentation of changes in the soil C pool and surface soil physical properties related to biomass or cover crop management for selected major soils in the NC and other participating regions.
  • Identification of most sensitive SOC pool fractions that influenced by soil and biomass management practices.
  • Contributions of information for use in decision aides designed for evaluation of intensifying agroecosystem inputs for production systems applied to marginal lands.
  • Analysis of the effects of landscape positions on soil erosion, SOC distribution, and soil physical properties.
  • Scientific publications, guidebooks, and fact sheets that address the specific benefits of crop residue management practices on soil and crop productivity as well as environmental quality
  • Organization of workshops and meetings designed to extend information to land managers and policy makers.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Reduced soil degradation in previously eroded landscapes Information generated in this project provides an analysis of the interaction of crop residue and cover crop management impacts on soil organic carbon and soil surface properties critical to sustained biofuel and crop production applicable to a wide geographic region. We will have a better understanding of changes in surface soil properties resulting from intensive cropping, cover crop use and residue removal for biofuel production, grazing, haying and other purposes on soil quality among selected agroecosystems.
  • An increase in scientific knowledge concerning soil-landscape processes. Knowledge generated in this project will be useful for documenting economic and environmental benefits for adoption of conservation based residue removal systems cover crops or agroecosystem inputs that enhance or maintain soil organic carbon and soil surface properties that sustain crop productivity in eroded landscapes. This information will foster improved management of our resources and enhanced environmental quality.
  • Residue and stacked enterprise management (residue removal for livestock feed or grazing of residue and cover crops) and conservation policies and management practices based on science based information. Information generated from this project will provide information based on regional coordinated experiments that can be used by policy makers and land managers to make informed decisions about policies and production practices that apply to erodible landscapes.


(2019):Site selection/treatment modifications at existing sites

(2021):Mid-term Review

(2022):Completion of sample and laboratory analyses

(2023):Workshops and meetings; Begin posting of findings on project website and state agricultural experiment station and extension service web sites.

(2024):Project completion and publication of results.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

Results will be presented in refereed publications and in posters and symposia at National Meetings of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. We will also provide the information to collaborating agencies such as the NRCS and various federal, state, and local agencies. Findings will be posted on websites devoted to the transfer of information to the general public including University Departmental and Extension websites and our project website. Additionally, committee members will extend this information at workshops, local field days, field tours, and through preparation of fact sheets. The Committee will also organize a symposium on residue removal impacts on soil quality at either the SSSA or SWCS annual meetings in 2022 and 2023, respectively.


The Regional Technical Committee will follow the operational procedures listed in the State Agricultural Experiment Directors, CSREES (now known as NIFA) and ESCOP document entitled "Guidelines for Multistate Research Activites" revised and dated April 2002. The voting membership of the Regional Technical Committee includes one representative from each cooperating agricultural experiment station or institution appointed by the director and a representative of each cooperating USDA-ARS research unit or location. The administrative advisor and the CSRS representative are non-voting members. All voting members of the Technical Committee are eligible for office. The offices of the Regional Technical Committee include the Chair, the Vice-Chair and the Secretary. The chair, secretary, and secretary-elect will be elected by committee membership and serve for one year.  The secretary will assume the chair position upon the completion of the term of the chair.  The secretary-elect will assume the secretary’s position when the vice chair assumes the chair’s position and then the chair’s position. The annual meetings will be hosted by the chair at his/her location or at a location determined by the committee membership.

The duties of the Technical Committee are to coordinate work activities related to the project. The Chair, in accord with the Administrative Advisor, will notify the Technical Committee of the time and place of the meeting will prepare the agenda and preside at meetings of the Technical Committee and Executive Committee. He or she is responsible for preparing the annual progress report and coordinating the preparation of regional reports. The Vice-Chair assists the Chair in all functions and the Secretary records the minutes and performs other duties assigned by the Technical Committee or Administrative Advisor. The Chair appoints subcommittees as needed. Annual meetings will be held by the Technical Committee, as authorized by the Administrative Advisor, for the purpose of conducting business related to the project.

One of the tasks of the Committee is to seek external funding for strengthening research and teaching components. The Committee members will prepare and submit grant proposals for seeking funding support from several sources including USDA(NRI), USEPA, and industry. The focus of the grant proposal(s) will be conducting research on the impact of intensifying inputs (cover crops) and grazing or harvesting crop residues on: (1) mass balance of C,N and water, (2) structural properties including crusting and surface sealing,(3) gaseous emissions including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, (4) soil erodibility and erosion.

Literature Cited

Al-Kaisi, M., A. Duuelle, and D. Kwaw-Mensah. 2014. Soil microaggregate and macroaggregate decay over time and soil carbon change as influenced by different tillage systems. J. Soil Water Cons. 69 (6):574-580.  doi:10.2489/jswc.69.6.574.

Al-Kaisi, M. and D. Kwaw-Mensah. 2016. Iowa soil health management manual. CROP-3090, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 

Al-Kaisi, M.M. 2017. The economics of soil health. Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. 

Alexander, E.B. 1988. Rates of soil formation: Implications for soil-loss tolerance. Soil Sci. 145:37-45. 

Carpenter-Boggs, L., P.D. Stahl, M.J. Lindstrom, and T.E. Schumacher,  2003. Soil microbial properties under permanent grass, conventional tillage, and no-till management in South Dakota. Soil Till. Res. 71(1):15-23. 

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