NCERA59: Soil Organic Matter: Formation, Function and Management

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA59: Soil Organic Matter: Formation, Function and Management

Duration: 10/01/2021 to 09/30/2026

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Soil organic matter (SOM) is the foundation of soil quality and soil health.  New knowledge and practices that improve the  management and maintenance of SOM and SOM dependent processes also provide the foundation of healthy farms, communities, and environments. The complex biological, geophysical, and chemical processes involved in SOM formation and function require exploration by interdisciplinary and collaborative teams. Founded in 1952, NCERA-59 remains the only multi-state committee in the U.S. investigating how management practices affect the nature and genesis of soil organic matter and how this alters soils’ biological, physical, and chemical function. Research and extension activities require full integration to promote knowledge use to increase soil’s capacity to resist and recover from stress, capture and retain biological life supporting matter including carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and essential nutrients, filter, retain and transport water, and support healthy plant and animal life. Activities conducted by this committee advance our ability to promote and conserve soil’s regulating and provisioning ecosystem services including C sequestration, soil nutrient cycling, N use efficiency, and water retention. NCERA-59’s research and outreach efforts are important for the protection of soil resources, reduction of environmental impacts from agricultural activity, and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions as well as promoting soil quality and soil health. To work toward these goals, the committee will continue to explore how amendments, crop rotation, tillage and drainage affect the genesis, composition, reactivity and function of humic and non-humic organic substances.

Scientists from outside the North Central Region regularly participate in the annual meeting of this committee and which broadens the scope and relevance of our work due to the diversity of their knowledge and scientific skills. This allows us to consider site and system specific aspects of organic matter management.  Research activities continue to explore organic matter composition (Zhou et al., 2015) and stabilization (Throckmorton et al., 25 2015; Silva et al., 2015); and, are actively investigating C and N interactions and their influence on priming (Castellano et al., 2015; Schmidt et al., 2016), aggregation (Blanco-Canqui et al., 2015), microbial communities (Rudisill et al., 2016; Zhang et al., 2016), and free living organism N fixation (Smercina et al. (2019a, b)  Linkages to plant-soil interactions are being made through exploration of N release from cover crops (Jani et al., 2015), disease suppression (Marzano et al., 2015), the effects of mycorrhizal associations on P and N nutrition (Duan et al., 2015), and of plant growth promoting bacterial and humic acid on root growth and crop yield (Canellas et al., 2015).  In addition to this, group members remain committed to information application by improving and applying process models (Necpalova et al., 2015; Qin et al., 2016) and soil quality indicators (Cates et al., 2106; Dose et al., 2015; Ugarte and Wander, 2015; Veum et al., 2012).  A recent collaborative paper highlighting the concerns and needs for collaborative efforts in evaluating soil quality/soil health indicators and to direct focus on those indicators that need refinement and standardization (Wander, et al., 2019).

One of the most important functions of NCERA-59 is to provide an informal setting for exchange of ideas among scientists with diverse scientific skills interested in the various roles of SOM in the functioning of ecosystems. The technical outreach component of this committee has been especially important in transferring information to its members as well as to the general research community, and stakeholders. In addition, many of the efforts of committee members have influenced policy at both the state and local level. The committee allows younger scientists the opportunity to interact with established scientist working across the country. Diversity of member research interests (microbial, biochemical, chemical, physical and other applied aspects of SOM dynamics) remains a strength of this group. During the current term of this project, NCERA-59 members have published over 140 refereed journal articles, 14 technical reports and participated in over 155 outreach activities and presentations related to this committee's work.

The NCERA-59 committee will continue to promote research cooperation among its members and build on its historical mission to foster interest in and, mechanistic understanding of, how crop and soil management practices alter organic matter formation, SOM chemistry, the biological and physical reactivity of humic and non-humic substances and, work to develop models and information tools systems that help solve problems of regional and national scope. The committee will follow up on previous high-impact activities including the production of edited books and symposia on topics of shared interest. Current plans include continuing efforts focused on cropping systems and feedbacks influencing ecological stoichiometry and associated SOM dynamics, the development of interpretive frameworks using SOM fractions as indicators of soil health and soil N supply potential, and understanding relationships between SOM and soil biology.


  1. Coordinate research collaborations and information exchange on the biochemistry, biological transformations, and physical/chemical fractions of soil organic matter. Applications of this work can: (a) improve nutrient cycling and use efficiency in cropping systems; (b) determine soil C storage potential and thresholds; (c) assess the stress and resilience of soils and soil C affected by agricultural and other anthropogenic activities; (d) improve definition of particulate organic matter (POM) and potential mineralizable C and N pools as indicators of nutrient release; (e) mitigate greenhouse gases; and/or (f) remediate degraded or contaminated soils.
  2. Identify and evaluate indicators that can be used to assess soils as a resource for ecosystem services including but not limited to detailed chemical characterizations of physically extracted fractions and interactions among soil microorganisms, plants and SOM.
  3. Conduct outreach activities for stakeholders including scientists, regulators, and industry personnel to promote the ecological management of soils, including practices that regenerate or sustain functionally important soil organic matter fractions in managed and undisturbed systems.
  4. Co-sponsor symposia at national and international meetings. Contribute and participate in educational and outreach activities to include training the next generation of scientists.

Procedures and Activities

The following approaches will be used to accomplish the objectives of NCERA-59:

1) Accomplishment of Objectives 1 and 2 will be through: (a) annual committee meetings, each focused on one of the themes listed in Objectives 1 and 2, using actual and virtual roundtable discussions with invited external and NCERA-59 participant presentations, and field or lab tours for reporting results, information exchange and promoting the findings; (b) exploring and developing sources of funding for collaborative research opportunities on the formation, function and management of SOM across spatial scales; and, (c) members with collaborative projects or interests will summarize their work through presentations at national meetings, review papers, and other appropriate media and outreach activities.

2) The outreach activities described in Objective 3 will include the collection and dissemination of research findings in the form of extension publications and brochures through web-based venues, as well as with scientists in related fields at meetings and activities listed under Objectives 4.

3) We will interact with and contribute to national and international societies by co-sponsoring SOM oriented symposia and activities that emphasize research on humus chemistry, the role of SOM  in C sequestration and nutrient cycling, biodiversity, water quality, and soil quality, health and productivity. Organizations such as the Soil Science Society of America, International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), International Humic Substances Society, Ecological Society of America and the Soil Health Institute are examples of societies or organizations that actively engage in areas directly related to the goals of NCERA-59. Many of the members of NCERA-59 are members and participants in these societies and organizations and actively engage in symposia and publications that are sponsored by these organizations.

4) We will coordinate NCERA-59 meetings with other appropriate multi-state committees and groups including NC-1178 that focus on agricultural practices that impact soil properties, soil quality, soil health and soil productivity.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Exchange of ideas, information and data among participants that will result in research, publications and outreach collaborations and information delivery.
  • Continued and increased involvement in leadership and organization of workshop and symposia at national and international meetings to promote exchange of current information to the scientific and professional community. These national and international meetings include those of but are not limited to the Soil Science Society of America, Soil Ecological Society, International Humic Substance Society and Soil Health Institute.
  • Using the annual NCERA-59 meetings to identify high impact, timely and emerging ideas for collaborative research, publications and outreach activities. These meetings can also provide linkages with other multi-state research committees and national and international organizations.
  • Provide and promote committee participants as a pool of experts available as speakers and presenters of information and materials on soil organism based processes as well as chemical, physical and biological measures of SOM and C sequestration. Comments: With continued concerns about soil process relationships with greenhouse gas sources and sinks, information developed by activities of this committee and its participants is essential to better understanding of soil processed that can contribute to the soil’s contributions to or mitigation of climate change processes.
  • Multiple members are engaged in areas such as SOM management, humic substances management, SOM management to optimize N fixation, experimental design, managing SOM for optimum NUE, etc.These will be developed into collaborative review papers, research summaries or grants to expand research in these and similar topics that will provide information across a broad set of environmental conditions experienced by the member states.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

NCERA-59 will conduct their extension and educational activities through the following activities: (1) Significant new information developed through the activities of this committee will be summarized through collaborative  research and review publications, (2) Committee members or groups of members will be involved in organizing or sponsoring workshops or symposia at regional, national or international meetings to promote information exchange among scientists and professionals as well as interact with other multistate research committees with interests in soil organic matter, (3) Committee members will inform and interact with extension educators, researchers and policy makers on issues of soil organic matter formation, function and management, (4) Contribute to eXtension and other forms of electronic communication to disseminate science based information relating to soil organic matter, and (5) Document our publications, presentations and students trained through the activities of this committee.


NCERA59's organization and governance will follow the standard description. The offices of the Regional Technical Committee include the Chair, the Secretary/Vice-chair-elect. The chair, secretary, and secretary-elect will be elected by committee membership and serve for one year.  The secretary will act as the vice-chair and will assume the chair position upon the completion of the term of the chair.  The secretary-elect will assume the secretary and vice-chair position when the current secretary/vice chair assumes 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.

Literature Cited

Blanco-Canqui, H., Ferguson, R.B., Shapiro, C.A.,Drijber, R.A., and D.T. Walters. 2014. Does Inorganic Nitrogen Fertilization Improve Soil Aggregation? Insights from Two Long-Term Tillage Experiments. Journal of Environmental Quality. 43:995-1003.

Canellas, L.P., S.F. da Silva, D.C. Olk, and F.L. Olivares.  2015. Foliar application of plant growth- promoting bacteria and humic acid increase maize yields. Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment. 13: 131-138. 

Castellano, M. J., Mueller, K.E., Olk, D.C., Sawyer, J.E., and J.  Six. 2015. Integrating plant litter quality, soil organic matter stabilization, and the carbon saturation concept. Global Change Biology, 21(9), 3200-3209.

Cates, A.M., Ruark, M.D., Hedtcke, J.L., and J.L. Posner. 2016. Long-term tillage, rotation and perennialization effects on particulate and aggregate soil organic matter. Soil & Tillage Research. 155:371-380.

Duan, J. Tian, H., Drijber, R.A., and Y. Gao. 2015. Systemic and local regulation of phosphate and nitrogen transporter genes by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in roots of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. 96:199-208.

Dose, H.L., Fortuna, A.M.,  Cihacek, L.J.Norland, J.,  DeSutter, T.M.,  Clay, D.E., and J. Bell.  2015. Biological indicators provide short term soil health assessment during sodic soil reclamation. Ecol. Ind. 58244-253.

Jani, A.D., Grossman, J.M., Smyth, T.J., and S. Hu. 2015. Influence of soil inorganic nitrogen and root diameter size on legume cover crop root decomposition and nitrogen release. Plant and Soil. 393: 57-68.

Marzano, S.Y., Wander, M.M., Villamil, M., Ugarte, C.M. and D. Eastburn.  2015. Organic transition effects on soilborne diseases of soybean and populations of Pseudomonadaceae. Agronomy J. 107:1087-1097.  

Necpalova, M., Anex, R. P., Fienen, M. N., Del Grosso, S. J., Castellano, M. J., Necpálová, M., and D.W>, Barker. 2015. Understanding the DayCent model: Calibration, sensitivity, and identifiability through inverse modeling. Environmental Modelling & Software, 66:110-130.

Qin, Z., Dunn, J.B., Kwon, H-Y, Mueller, S. and M.M. Wander. 2016. Influence of spatially-dependent, modeled soil carbon emission factors on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of corn and cellulosic ethanol. Global Change Biol. DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.1233

Rudisill, M.A., Turco, R.F., and L.A. Hoagland. 2016. Fertility practices and rhizosphere effects alter ammonia oxidizer community structure and potential nitrification activity in pepper production soils. Applied Soil Ecology., 99:70-77.

Schmidt, J., E. Schulz, B. Michalzik, F. Buscot, and J.L.M. Gutknecht. 2015. Carbon input and crop related changes in microbial biomarker levels strongly affect the turnover and composition of soil organic carbon. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 85:39-50.

Silva, L.C.R., Doane, T.A., Corrêa, R.S., Valverde,V.,  Pereira, E.I.P. and W.R. Horwath. 2015. Iron-mediated stabilization of soil carbon. Ecological Applications. 25:1226-1234.

Smercina, D. N., S. E. Evans, M. L. Friesen, and L., K. Tiemann.  2019a.  To fix or not to fix: controls on free living nitrogen fixation in the rhizosphere. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 85(6):e02546.

Smercina, D. N., S. E. Evans, M. L. Friesen, and L., K. Tiemann.  2019b.  Optimization of the 15N2 incorporation and acetylene reduction methods for free-living nitrogen fixation.  Plant Soil 445:591-611.

Throckmorton, H.M., Bird, J.A., Monte,N.,  Doane, T. Firestone, M.K., and W.R. Horwath. 2015. The soil matrix increases microbial C stabilization in temperate and tropical forest soils. Biogeochemistry 122: 35-45.

Ugarte, C. M., Kwon, H., Andrews, S. S., and M.M. Wander. 2014. A meta-analysis of soil organic matter response to soil management practices: An approach to evaluate conservation indicators. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 69:422-430.

Ugarte, C. M., and M. M.Wander. 2013. The influence of organic transition strategy on chemical and biological soil tests. Renew Agric. And Food Sys. 28(1):17-31.

Veum, K.S., Goyne, K. W., Kremer, R., and P. Motavalli. 2012. Relationships Among Water Stable Aggregates and Organic Matter Fractions Under Conservation Management. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 76:2143-2153.

Wander, M. M., L. Cihacek, M Coyne, R. Drijber, J. Grossman, J. L. Gutknecth, W. Horwath, S. Jagadamma, D. Olk, S. Snapp, L. Tiemann, and R. Turco. 2019. Developments in agricultural soil quality and health: Reflections by the Research Committee on Soil Organic Matter Management. Frontiers Environ. Sci. 7:109.  doi:10.3389/fenvs.2019.00109.

Zhang, N., S. Wan, J. Guo, G. Han, J.L.M. Gutknecht, B. Schmid, L. Yu, W. Liu, J. Bi, Z. Wang, and K. Ma. 2015. Precipitation modifies the effects of warming and nitrogen addition on soil microbial communities in northern Chinese grasslands. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 89:12-23.

Zhou, Z., B. Hua, X. Cao, J. Yang, D.C. Olk, B. Deng, F. Liu, R. Li, and J. Mao.  2015. Chemical compositions of dissolved organic matter from various sources as characterized by solid-state NMR.  Aquatic Sciences 77: 595-607. 


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Log Out ?

Are you sure you want to log out?

Press No if you want to continue work. Press Yes to logout current user.

Report a Bug
Report a Bug

Describe your bug clearly, including the steps you used to create it.