The Science Behind Healthy Soil: NRCS’ Soil Health Literature Review Project

At this time, I’m pleased
to turn the webinar over to our moderator, David Lamm. David is the team leader
for the National Soil Health and Sustainability Team. David is headquartered at
the East National Technology Support Center
here in Greensboro. David, you may now begin. Well, thank you, Holli, and
I appreciate the opportunity to be with everybody
today, and I look forward to an excellent presentation
on this topic of soil health and the science behind it, and
the literature review that’s been conducted. And I think I’ve been
involved with the soil health activity for the last
three or four years, and we’re constantly striving
to provide and demonstrate and document the scientific
support principles that we’re talking about when we
go around the country and advocate for soil health. And the work that Mike Kucera
will be sharing with us here in a minute just, again,
continues to help support that. But before we get
started with Mike, I want to introduce
Dave Hoover, and allow him to make a few comments. Dave is with the
Soil Science Division out at the National Soil Survey
Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. He’s a national leader for the
Soil Quality and Ecosystems Team, among other jobs
that he does out there. And he’s been around
in that position a little over four years. Formerly, other
jobs he’s done– he was State Soil Scientist and
Assistant State Conservationist in Idaho. And Dave is like me. He’s been around
for a long time. He’s got about 37 years
of excellent experience. So Dave, I’m going to let you
take it over here for a second. Thank you, David. Welcome, all, to the webinar,
and to the International Year of Soil. There was a celebration of
this significant 2015 event last week in DC at the
Department of Agriculture. Several prominent
officials, including the Secretary of Agriculture,
USDA Chief Science Officer, the Chief of the NRCS, and the
Chief of the Forest Service, all spoke. And a common theme
in all their talks was the importance
of soil health. So you’re in good company
as we talk about this today. The need to have an easily
accessible science based documentation site for improving
soil health through our design and implementation of
conservation practices was first brought
up by Chief Weller, and then was
supported, developed, and promoted by
our deputy chiefs for soil science and
resource assessment and for science and technology. It was then researched, written,
and developed by the Soil Science Division and
brought here to you today as a true collaborative
deputy area venture. We’re pretty excited
about the potential for this website and
SharePoint, and look forward to supporting its growth as
more professional articles are evaluated and are added to it. Right now, I’ll turn it
back over to David Lamm. OK. Thank you, Dave. And again, I think that’s
one of the exciting things is the collaborative effort
between science and technology and the soils division
in making this happen. Next, we want to hear a
few comments from somebody I’m excited to introduce. As many of you know,
several years ago, when former Chief
White announced he unlocked the secrets
of the soil campaign and elevated soil health
to an agency-wide priority, along with that came the idea
of developing a division of soil health that was focused
primarily on the soil health activities and soil principles
that we’ve been talking about, and how to incorporate
that and weave that into the fabric of the agency. Well, we’ve been talking
about it for a long time, and now we have some evidence
that the division is underway with the hiring of Dr. Bianca
Moebius-Clune last November. Bianca, previous to coming
to NRCS in November, was on the staff at
the Cornell University, in their Crop and Science
Department up there. She worked a lot with the
Cornell Soil Health Test and helping improve that. She did a lot of
work with Adapt-N. She received her Degree,
Bachelor of Science from the University
of New Hampshire, and Masters and her
PhD from Cornell. And one thing to say
about Bianca– when we were going out and
doing the Soil Health 101 training last year, Bianca
was a major role player and helped us out in
the state of New York, not only doing the 101
introduction training, but helped us do a second
day workshop at one of the Cornell research farms. So with that, Bianca,
I’ll turn it over to you to make a few comments. Thank you very much, Dave. Thank you very much,
everybody, for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I’m really excited to be
part of this collaboration with the Soil Quality
and the Ecosystems Branch Team at the National
Soil Survey Center with the Soil Health
Initiative that has been started in
Greensboro, and has been started at the grassroots,
really, across the country. Very exciting to see that. I’m actually right now
calling in from Indiana, where I’ve been participating
in some meetings here, and will have further
meetings later in the week. And it’s very
exciting to see what is happening on the ground,
and how really, what’s happening on the ground
with soil health, what farmers all
over the country are doing right now– that
information is filtering up. We’re managing to
get that all the way to national headquarters, where
that can then inform policy and the way that programs
are run so that we can spread that kind of ability to make a
difference across the nation. So very excited to be here. Very honored and inspired to
have joined such a great team– an agency that goes
across the country that has skilled and
passionate people. It’s really very
exciting to be on board. So the new soil health
division has ultimately the goal to increase
implementation on the ground across the nation. Now, how do we do that? There are so many
different factors that influence how we need to
manage for better soil health. Different climates,
different soil types, different farm backgrounds,
different status for where soil health
is at currently. That certainly
influences how we can transition to a healthier
management system. Farm background, in
terms of management, in terms of the
farmers’ interests, in terms of the technical
skills that people carry through to the system
and the interest in that. There’s so many different
factors that influence this, and ultimately, it’s
often our knowledge– our knowledge of how management
influences soil health, how that new soil health
management then influences other factors like profitability
of the farm, resilience of the farm, water
quality, air quality. There are a lot of factors
that we are dealing with here. And for the soil
health division to be able to collaborate with a
project like this one, where we have a really
very broad effort to review the
national literature, and then make those
available to everybody. Make those available
to our NRCS partners. Make those available to
farmers on the ground. Whoever all needs access to
these peer reviewed literature. It’s really important to get
that information out there, to have access to it, because
often, in different places, different things work. And sometimes the basic concepts
need to be understood first, and then they can be
modified to address different issues
and different states and different soil types
and different region. So I’m very excited to
be part of this project. As has already been alluded to,
what we have in place right now is just the start of it. I think we will be continuing
to expand the data set. We’ll be continuing to
expand the literature that are available online. And there’s a lot of new
research being done currently. Our land grant
system increasingly is putting efforts
toward soil health, and that’s really
exciting to see. There are various
foundations that are getting on board,
wanting to help partnerships at the national
scale bring this forward. We’re going to
need that research. We’re going to need
to immediately bridge from that research being
done to put it on the ground. And we will continue
to move that forward. So with that, I want to
turn over to Mike Kucera, or probably back to
Dave Lamm for a moment. And thank you very
much for having me. I’m excited to be
part of this team. Thank you, Bianca. Again, welcome to the
agency, and we look forward to you having a long and
fruitful and prosperous career with the NRCS here. Now I want to take a minute to
introduce our featured speaker. Mike Kucera is currently an
agronomist on the National Soil Quality and Ecosystems Branch
out at the National Soil Survey Center. He’s been doing that since 2012. Previous to that, Mike was the
State Resource Conservationist in Nebraska for
about eight years. He’s done such things as be
a soil quality specialist. He was an agronomist
before that, area resource conservationist,
district conservationist. Mike is apparently having a
little trouble keeping a job, but he likes new challenges. And so with Mike, I’ll
just turn it over to you. And we look forward to
hearing your presentation. Again, I want to
remind everybody, if you have a
question, type it in. And we’re going to be
pausing it two or three times throughout the presentation to
allow questions to be answered. So go ahead, Mike. OK, thanks David. And I appreciate all the
collaborative efforts of the folks, and I’ll
share a few of the names here in a second. But my intro slide
here just shows some of what’s already
been talked about. On the left is Soil
Health 101 training, where Gordon Mickel
and myself are doing some of the demonstrations. The runoff, the flake test. And then Gordon provided me a
nice slide of a crimson clover cover crop slide to show how
there is an on the ground photo of what can happen,
even in South Carolina. A slide there with
some very sandy soil to show how we can even build
soil health in those settings. One of the primary
reasons– we’re doing a lot of
things with promotion of soil health, the
planning principles, intertwining that with our
programs, all of the things that we’re doing on the ground. Producers like Bianca mention
that it’s one of the best ways to sell soil health. But this is a little
different facet, where we wanted to see
what kind of literature was out there to support
these planning principles. And everything we do
within NRCS– of course, we want to be
scientifically sound. Me as an SRC, when we were
writing tech guide standards, we would work very closely
with our regional land grant universities. We’d work with our
ARS to take some of the research and the
information they had and put that into our tech
guide and into practices, the conservation planning
and the programs that we do. So that’s how we see this
as being very important. It’s already been
alluded to that this was a collaborative effort. And just want to mention here
at the National Soil Survey Center, the staff
that I’ve worked with– Skye Wills, Faustin
Iyamuremye, and Craig Busskohl, and myself all did a
lot of the literature review, and writing up
the summaries that I’m going to describe
further, Chris Smith, who is a retired textile
services soil scientist. And then we work very closely
with Holli Kuykendall, I did, to develop the
database and the structure so that we can then
share it with partners both on our public website
and our SharePoint. And there’s many others
that have given us support and input, et cetera,
through the whole process. OK, just a few features to
talk about in sideboards, if you will. Everything that we
put on the website are peer reviewed papers. And we’re really after the
scientific underpinning for the practices of soil
health management systems, the planning principles,
what changes– either positive or
negative– might occur from those in
different settings across the country to our
dynamic soil properties. The initial search
that we did as a group here was focused primarily
on physical properties, and we also, of course, when
you pull papers and review papers, which– after a while–
they get a little bit old, I’ve got to admit, looking
a lot of scientific papers. But we, of course,
found limited chemical and biological
properties that were also studied in some of those. So the database has the
ability to expand to all three of those properties. Primarily, we looked
at cropland practices, but also, the other land uses–
pasture, range land, et cetera. It’s set up so that
we could include those appropriate practices
and research papers. So I want to encourage
you to submit and improve what we have for those
other land uses as well. We see this as being a
tool that can be easily used by NRCS staff, no
matter what level– if you’re a DC, if you’re at an area
office, a state office, a Tech Center, a national office,
both internally and externally. So that’s important. Future improvements
or additions– we want to add
biological properties. There’s some limited
data right now for biological properties
in the soil health matrix that I’ll talk about more. But we want to expand that. Also, some of the
economic impacts. And that’s a big thing, I
think, with producers is what do these things do to my yield? What do these things
do to my bottom line? So that’s a big part
of our promotion effort across the country as well. A few more features. And I’ve got Faustina
and Skye here with me, and they can vouch for this. It was totally unbiased. We weren’t really selecting
for certain papers from a certain land
grant university. We were focusing on
practices, and primarily physical property. + whatever we found that
we thought would fit, we didn’t try to
skew what we found. We just wanted to
search that literature. As long as we felt that it
was valid, we included it. The literature was
definitely not all inclusive. The database is dynamic,
and we intend to grow it. Bianca hit on that well. We really feel that this
can grow and provide you information for your locale
or your region of the country. There is a middle process that
staff, and for that matter, partners that have access to our
USDA SharePoint could submit. Or you can work with your
partners, your land grants, your ARS, whoever it would
be locally to submit papers. Again, we target it by
practices and properties. And so you can see
with USDA, we have access to National Ag
Library, which gives us access to Digi top, Google Scholar. Also, we have a library
here in the Center. And the research is not only
limited to within the US. We actually have
some papers that come from abroad–
from Australia, from Europe, et cetera. Going to give you a few
slides just on the definition, because we have a
pretty big audience. And so it’s important
that you know Soil Health 101 and the other
training and the promotion efforts we do. Get your head around what soil
health is and the definition. I’ve been at lots of
different meetings. I was at a meeting over at
the University of Nebraska, and some of the ARS regional
folks from around the region and the Climate Center here. And they talked about,
what is a good measurement of soil health? And so we threw out
the definitions, and like Bianca
said, it could vary across the country on
what’s really important and what’s really the
most important thing for your locale. The bottom line is that
this is a function. The functions of
a living ecosystem sustain plants,
animals, and humans. And then we’re looking at
how chemical, physical, biological properties in sync
optimize nutrient cycling, water, water cycling, the
hydrologic cycle, filtering and buffering of things like
pesticides and other solutes, physical stability,
the structure of our soil to support
plants, structures, et cetera. And of course, the bottom
line is the habitat for the biodiversity,
because that’s really the key or the new
thing, if you will, about soil health
compared to what I learned about soil
quality when I started with NRCS in the early ’80s. Comparing the two terms. They are often used
interchangeably. A lot of the research
that we looked at, and the historical research,
uses the term soil quality, because we’re doing
specific measurements of parameters– dynamic
soil properties. Soil quality does tend to
refer to inherent properties– things that don’t
change, typically, like texture, for example. Where soil health,
the management we do, the planning principles that
we’re applying on the lam producers would
optimize or improve those dynamic properties
such as bulk density, porosity, aggregated stability,
organic matter content, which is really, really the
core or the hub of soil health, if you will. What do we gain
with soil health? We’re after being
more resilient. Are soils being more resilient
or bouncing back from abuse? And if you think about it, if
we have soils in North Central Iowa that are really
high in organic matter, they’re much more
resilient, and they’ll bounce back and continue to
produce even if we abuse them. Compared to, for example,
an organic muck soil in Western Nebraska,
Eastern Colorado. It’s not as resilient,
and they’re not as resistant to degradation. So that’s important. The dynamic properties
for healthy soil would be near optimum. Typically, that’s what we
would term reference condition. In a tall grass prairie,
if you think about it, our soil organic matter and
our functioning of our soils was probably at an optimum. Soil health. We think about a living
ecosystem versus soil quality. Again, specific indicators or
measurements that you might do. And in one way, you can
think of soil health similar to how you would think
about your personal health. If I go to a doctor
for a checkup, they do specific indicators,
and he asks me questions. Are you eating healthy? Are you doing your exercise? How’s your blood pressure? They’ll do other blood
work, for example. So you can kind of equate
it that way as well. If you do the right
things, you’re going to have a healthy
lifestyle, hopefully, or hopefully life,
versus the indicators that you might look at
for the risk factors. The planning principles. And these are really important
with the Soil Health 101 that I talked about,
and what’s being presented across the country. There’s four main
things that we present. And that’s disturbing less,
which could be chemical, could be physical
like tillage, or could be biological disturbance. The diversity of plants. If you think about it, in
our reference condition, a tall grass prairie, a
native forest system– we have a diversity of
plants that add diversity of soil microorganisms. Also, we try to have living
roots throughout as much of the year as possible,
and keep the soil covered, which is really important
for various functions. Also, kind of a fifth planning
principle, if you will, is integrating livestock,
and then managing compaction and managing erosion,
as well as the other things you would do with your
nutrient management, your pest management. But the goal is to create
the most favorable habitat possible for the soil food
web so our soil functions as well as possible. This is just a brochure
that you’ve seen. So what? We’re applying these practices. Farmers are applying
these practices. What do they do, or
how do they help? And so that’s really important. And if you think
about it, practices don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re going to apply
multiple practices so there’s some
synergistic effect if we apply more than one practice. And to make a
system work, we need to think about
the entire system. As we started searching
for literature that fit within the scope
of what I was talking about earlier– our
physical properties– we looked at the practices in
our field office tech guide. Which ones were being used
the most, or most important, if you will, for soil health,
primarily on crop land? But again, we could
look at grazing lands. And we stored those
in these folders. Initially, we did the search,
stored them in the folders, and then I also looked within
each of those practices. We were trying to
get research that supported the major physical
properties of soil that are important to soil health. To select which parameters
or properties to look at, a lot of you have had soil
health, soil quality training in the past. And we look at
selecting indicators to give us an
indication, much like for your own personal
health you have indicators. We have some chemical,
physical, biological indicators. And so the ones
that you see in red are the ones that, at this time,
are included in the database. And within some of
those– for example, available water capacity
and water retention with our soil health practices–
so we will group or aggregate. For example,
aggregate stability. There could be
things within that. And again, this list
of indicators, there is approximately about 30
columns in our current database that we’ll be showing
here in a second. These are the soil properties. The abbreviations or
the acronyms, as you get into the database and
look at it and work with it and search it for your
region, or specific practices or properties. And you’ll notice
those acronyms, like BD is for bulk
density, soil water would include available water
capacity, water retention, Ksat, infiltration,
et cetera, et cetera. So again, these all
have definitions to make it work better
in the database, make it more presentable. Now, that gives
you the background on why and what we’re promoting,
what soil health is, et cetera. And now we want to jump
into the public website. And then the last part
of the webinar, I’ll go over the employee SharePoint
and the features of both. So in the public website, we
have five primary documents that have been generated. The first is a summary
of effective conservation practices on soil properties. And I’ll talk about that more
and go through an example, but from the literature
that we reviewed, there was five of us that
wrote up the different practice and summarized all
of the literature we had looked at– close to 200
different literature articles. What kind of effects does
no till, does mulching, does crop rotations, have? And what parameters drive that? So that’s a document that’s
available to the public. The second document,
the Excel spreadsheet, is a matrix that’s exported
from our Access database that’s on our SharePoint. So all of the
properties– the soil, the citations for
all the papers– so that is available for
download for everybody, for the general public to
search those articles using the spreadsheet. The next item is
a data dictionary, which is more or less
our Webster’s Dictionary of the information
that’s in the matrix. All the properties, the
different climate sorts, all of the different
things that you can sort by that there’s
a dictionary for so that you know exactly
what was intended for that specific item. And then, most
importantly, when we reviewed all of
these papers– and we have more of them
coming in as we speak– there’s a short summary
and citation to the paper. So I’ll talk about that more. And then there’s a link to our
employees’ SharePoint right from the public website. OK, the first thing is
the Soil Health Summary. I’ll talk about that briefly. The five practices we looked
at from our field office tech guide, our national
practice standards are crop rotation
328, no till 329, cover crops 340, mulching, 484,
and then nutrient management 590. And then depending on the
priorities, et cetera, that we consider this
a dynamic document, we may be adding
practices in the future. And as we add literature
to the database, again, this is a
summary of what we’re seeing for impacts or
effects on soil properties with these different
practices would be summarized. This is the table of
contents on that document. And you can see the
different practices. In the case of the no till, it’s
the practice that I wrote up. I have a table in
there of literature that I’ll go through
here in a second, just as an example of
one of the practices. And then I looked at and
grouped some of the primary soil properties that we
were looking at. Each of the practice
write-ups has the purpose of the conservation practice
from the practice standards. Talks about things that are
important for how effective that practice is and
what the literature said, in a general sense. This is the table, as an
example that I put together. And the first column
basically shows the impact on the soil property that had. In some cases, there’s
a negative impact, and that’s underlined. In this example, when we first
implement no till, for example, bulk density is usually
slightly increased. So it doesn’t strictly
look at positive impacts. It looks at the overall impacts. And then the system that
was along with no till, for example, how
effective that practice is is really highly dependent
on the other practices. For example, the first
one listed there– it had perennial grasses
used in rotation. That was evaluated
along with no till. So the rotation, whether
we’re using cover crops, the other practices
within the system. And then typically, with most
of the papers we looked at, they were comparing
different types of systems. For example, the first
one looked at CRP, no till with corn, soybean
rotation, wheat rotation, for example. And then the other
things that I found that were important
on how effective that practice was at
improving properties was how long was it in place? Because as we
know, with no till, there’s a transition phase. The moisture region. The climate region
is very important. So we have anywhere from
arid to humid, et cetera. Also, the soil temperature. Also, any limitations
on that site. So if we had soils
that had a claypan, a fragipan, sandy, low cation
exchange capacity, for example, those soils may not improve as
readily as some of the better soils, or vice versa. And then, of course, the
reference or the citation. The no till– what we
found to this point, no till as an example,
the keys are, again, the limitations of the site,
what kind of management was applied to that site prior
to the study or the research being implemented. The soil temperature
and moisture regime played a big role
in how effective that practice might be
and what considerations. Diversity, intensity
of the rotation. So if we had more intense
rotation, no till, for example, along with that practice, are
going to typically improve that property even more,
especially something like soil organic matter. The type and amount
of crop residue. Did we remove it? Did we graze it? How do we manage it? Was it irrigated or rainfed? As we all know, how
farmers implement this and why we’re really
focusing on farmer implemented systems
is they need to adapt their management to that given
year and the climate that’s occurring. The other things– the
amount of disturbance. Not all research looks at
the amount of disturbance as being the same. I show a photo there of
manure being injected. And so is that no till? Is that strip till? And so as you look
through these articles, it’s important to
consider those things. Again, the synergistic
impact was really important. What other practices? The protocols used
and the variability. When they were
comparing systems, were they on the same soil
types or different soil types? All those things,
really, you need to look at as far as that
particular literature. Weather impact. Plots versus field
size research. Some of the papers are on plots. Some of them are field scale. And again, the transition
of that practice. OK, in the [INAUDIBLE] website– Mike? Yeah, go ahead. You got time for a
couple questions? Sure. I have a question concerning
the definition of practices. NRCS has a very purposed
definition, criteria, those types of things. When you were considering that,
was it just a linkage more between the main type of
crop or what have you, or was there actually
a looking at how the paper defined the
practice that they were using? Or did you run into
any issues there? Yeah, the naming convention
on papers isn’t universal. Researchers don’t always
use cover crop as a term. The biggest inconsistency
was what is no till? What is conventional tillage? What is reduced
tillage, et cetera. So what we had to
do to determine what practices we
put in column B and what you see on
the screen was recent. And make an interpretation
as to what practices applied to our standard. So yeah, there wasn’t
a direct crosswalk. We had to use some
professional judgment. Also, I had a question
about the brochure. One, is it accessible? How can folks get a copy of it? Or is it is on the
web, or can they send away and get a
copy of that brochure that you showed earlier? By the brochure, you mean
the practice summary? Just our overall
summary of what we– Yes, yes. Yeah, that’s on the website. It’s on the public website. Yeah. Everything I’m showing right
now is on the public website and available for everybody. OK. All right, well I’m
going to let you go. Continue going there. OK. Spreadsheet. This is basically just
downloaded from our employee SharePoint database. And you have the
ability to filter it, sort, do whatever
you could typically do with a spreadsheet. Again, you’ve got
to– so you understand what each of those abbreviations
are in the column headers, there’s a data dictionary. Things like the standard,
the name of the practice. Data dictionary
continued slide here. The different properties
that we looked at. And we have a short
definition of those. So you’ll see as you
look through those that we tried to, in
some cases, include multiple things that
were maybe researched as far as properties. For example, infiltration
and drainage– we put those together. A lot of times they
looked at those. Sometimes they looked at
runoff along with infiltration. Those types of things. To make this work– and
again, anybody can use this. The public can use
this right now. It’s on the database. You have to enable saving
and save it to your computer to make it function. Real quick, what you
can do with this– this is just an example
where I filtered by practice. So you notice that I filtered so
that any particular paper that included 329, which is no till,
strip till– so I basically narrow down the list of papers. Then I can narrow it further. In this case, I’m
looking at Ksat, the saturated conductivity. And then if I’m interested in,
for example, semi-arid areas or whatever climate region,
moisture region, or temperature region, I can narrow
it down even further. And in this example
here, from just short of 200 papers that
we have in there now, I narrowed it down
to 13 papers that applied to the no till
practice in semi-arid regions of the country. So I can take a look
at those 13 papers, and if I was interested in
a specific soil property, I could narrow it
down even further. So this is a really good way
for our employees and partners, if there’s holes or gaps,
which there definitely are, where we want to
add to this database, you can submit papers. I’ll talk about
that more so that we can support the
different regions of the country and the
different purposes, for example. OK, one of the things that
took a lot of work on our part was to read those papers, make
sure we wanted to include it, first of all, in the database. And then we did a quick
summary of the paper. And this summary is not the
same thing as the abstract. What I would say is this
could be a combination of the abstract, the
conclusion, some of the findings within the paper. But it’s in a
layperson’s terms so that as an SRC– I can pick
on myself– when I was an SRC, I wanted research that
supported a certain practice or system that I was applying,
I could go do a quick search. I can take a quick look
at this paragraph summary, and then if I wanted to, I
can pull down the whole paper, with the exception, on
the public database, we cannot provide because
of agreements with USDA– we cannot provide access
to the full citation. So anybody that accesses
this from the public site only gets the short summary
that was written up. OK, that’s kind
of a good breaking point on the public side. Everything I showed
to this point is available on the public site. And again, we’ve got our
summary of five of the practices based on the limited review
we’ve done to this point. We’ve got the spreadsheet that’s
downloaded from the database. We have a data dictionary,
so you know what’s included, or the definitions of
what’s in the matrix. And those are the primary
things that are available. So David, do we have any
other questions at this point? Yeah, Mike. There’s a couple here. There’s one related
to wanting to know– there’s holes in the
literature review, I guess, maybe based on
a geographical region. Are there plans to try
and fill some holes? Might be weighted more to the
east or the west or vice versa. You got any comments
related to that? I’ve got Dave in here, too. I can probably put
him on the spot. OK. But the idea is, yes. If there’s areas or holes,
gaps, as I called it, yeah. We want you guys. You guys are our eyes and ears. I think that’s the key is that
we really want involvement from our cooperators and
from our field offices to help fill any of
those perceived gaps. And then you’re going to go over
later on in the presentation the process to submit
an article for review, and inclusion into the review. Isn’t that correct, Mike? Yeah. OK, so I’ll hold off
on questions like that. And then there was another
question related to is there a possibility of
searching by cropping systems, like for a small scale
diverse cropping system? That’s not really a category. Or is there any
kind of categories related to cropping systems
in your search function? No. The only thing we have
for search functions are in those column headers. And those are our
tech guide practices. So if rotations were
evaluated as part of that study or that paper,
that’s just listed under 328. And so what they
would have to do is basically sort by 328 for the
climate, the soil region that applies to them, and
take a quick look at those short summaries
to see if there’s any that apply to what they want. Now, if there’s a hole
or a gap, and they know of some good
literature that would apply to this project,
we want them to submit that. OK. Then I had a question. How far back in time did you do? Was there a cutoff? Did you take stuff, papers
from the ’30s, ’40s? Or was everything focused
primarily on, say, 1980 and forward? Did we say there was a cutoff? It had to be digital. There’s no cutoff,
to my knowledge. Yeah, but we didn’t go
looking for old stuff, either. So it was stuff that was
in the citation indexes. Yeah, the stuff that
we found was primarily what we were able to
get electronically from computer searches. 1980s and earlier. There might be a
straight 1970 paper. But most of the literature, I
would say, would be the ’90s and forward. Yeah. But it wouldn’t preclude
somebody having a valid paper that’s from the ’70s or ’60s. If it was submitted,
went through the review, could be included. Of course, if it had to be
digital, that would probably be one of the criteria, I guess. Yeah. A couple more questions. Your database– did you
primarily search out papers from land grants or
schools like that? Agro, ecology schools,
that type of thing? Or did you include
papers from ARS, ERS, and those types of folks
also in the search? Yeah, all of the above. Anything that would be in
the National Ag Library would probably be
our primary source. Anything that’s there. Because that’s what USDA has
access to through our computer searches. So you relied a lot on
the Ag Library there. OK. There was some limited review
where we went over and grabbed some actual journals. We have a library
here at the Center. So there was a few articles that
we pulled from some of those. And let me ask you
one or two more. This one I’m going to
have to read, for me. Could the Land Grant
Institution Library get bulk access to the
articles, or would a researcher need to access each
article one at a time? Does that make sense, Mike? Yeah. What you’re asking is if they
wanted a group of articles we had listed, for
example, in our database, can they get those in group? When you do it online, if
you have access online, it’s basically you search
and it’s one by one. You can make requests to
the National Ag Library, and send to them multiple. Anybody else want to
comment on that one? I don’t. Let me ask one more question
and I’ll let you move on, Mike. The explanation
of the difference why the public
access and we can’t provide a direct
link to the article– could you expand on that? And then maybe
offer up how someone could use that to go
actually get the article? I’m going to defer
to Dave on access. One of the questions was
why they can’t get access to the actual article. And then if they wanted to
actually go get the article. Other people will have
to go through whatever their own agreements are
through their institutions, or through participation in a
professional organization are going to have to find out their
own arrangements for looking at the actual articles. It’s contractual with us that
we can only share internally with Department of Agriculture
when we get the full articles. So that’s why we have to put the
full articles on the SharePoint and just the summaries
and references on the public website. [INTERPOSING VOICES] Well, but if somebody
would take the article and they could do
their own search and find their
own source and get a copy of that, that would– Yeah. What we did is on purpose. In that matrix, we
have a full citation. So they have all the information
they need to go to the entity or wherever it was
published to request it. A lot of times, that journal
may want $5.00 or $10.00 or whatever it is
for a submission fee. So that’s the other thing. And then the other thing we
did to help those folks out is the short summaries. They really need to go take
a look at that short summary. They’re in there alphabetically. Very easy to find. And so they can take a
look at that short summary in our little team’s viewpoint. We tried to summarize it
for you to lessen the work. OK, why don’t we to go
ahead and keep moving, Mike, and we’ll have
time for more questions at the next break here. OK. We’re going to jump
into the SharePoint. And just to reiterate
again, all the things that are available on the
public site are available here. The big difference is there’s
a link to the full article. That’s a big thing. And of course, the
database that we used to create the
spreadsheet that I showed you. So again, four main
things here that are featured on our SharePoint. First of all, there is a link
on the public site to this. So if you know how to
type in Google or Bing, you can still help literature. You can type that in. You’ll be able to
find the public site, and there’s a link there
for employees and partners that have access. So it’s a sortable matrix. That’s a database. Includes climate,
properties, practices. There’s about 30
different things. Journal summaries
and full transcripts. And then the overall
summary of five practices that I covered earlier–
that’s also available. The data dictionary as well. And then any announcements
or new things or literature review. And it functions just
like any other SharePoint. You can get notices. You can get those
types of things that you would–
the functionality of other SharePoints that
our employees are used to. Along the top, there
are different things. This is just a click on the
link for the Science of Soils and Technology for Soil Health,
our collaborative project. . And you can click
across the top. Get my arrow going here. Click across the
top, and you can get to the different
parts of the SharePoint. Click down below on
the announcements. For example, the webinar that
we’re having is announced. An earlier notice when we first
put it up on the SharePoint. We have literature
review products. Those are the things that are
available on the public site as well. But we also store those
here, and you can just simply open those documents up,
save them to your computer, and just view them on
screen if you want. There’s some key web
links to soil health. For example, our soil health,
our general soil health website, a link to
this literature web page, the various SharePoints
that are available, et cetera. So they’re all nice
and handy there for you to click on and take a look at. Across the top, again,
we would click on– if we wanted to
look at the matrix, this has all of the features
that the spreadsheet has and more. This is our actual
database, where we can export it from this
to create our spreadsheet. As we update and add papers,
or make corrections– again, this is dynamic– this is
where you’re going to find it. You can filter column
headers in this example. You just simply click
on that column header, and it’s got a filter
capability, just like you would have in a spreadsheet. And I clicked on this
example, 329 no till. So this is what it looks like. I narrowed it down from close
to 200 papers to less than 100 that have no till
included in them. I can click on
the short citation here– the first author
listed in the paper. And then the date. For example, here, I
clicked on Benjamin 2008, and so I can just use this
database interactively and take a quick look at
this paper, and see if it’s something
that– in this case, it’s out in Akron, Colorado. It might fit the High
Plains area of the country. And so I can real
quickly take a look and use the features that way. If you click on the second
column there– for example, I used Benjamin
again, Benjamin 2008– you’ll get the full
article, like this. In this case, it
was a paper looking at carbon effects on soil’s
physical and hydraulic properties in a
semi-arid climate out there in Akron, Colorado. And then what we would do
when you submit these papers, to kind of give
you an idea of why the different properties
and practices would show up in the database, the matrix–
in this particular case, they looked at
different crop rotation. They compared no till to 345. And also, there was a comparison
to conventional tillage. They had some 512, or
more perennial plants, in their crop rotation. So 512 was included. And then the properties that
they looked at in this study, along with soil organic matter,
were bulk density, compaction, soil water impacts, Ksat,
aggregate stability/ So as we review that,
those particular properties were part of that study. Then it would show up
as a yes in the database for that property. If there’s a lot of properties
that were not looked at, they would show up as
a no in the database. Then we got climate,
both semi-arid, and we also have our
soil temperature regime. In this case, it’s
semi-arid, mesic conditions out there in that
part of the world. And this was a
non-irrigated study. Within this, we also
have in the database whether it was irrigated
or non-irrigated or both were looked at. So you can sort that way. In this case, they
did not compare it to conventional tillage. It was simply the crop
rotations, the crop rotations that were longer term with
grasses in the rotation, and then our mulch
tillage systems. And again, they were
primarily comparing grass to no tell wheat
corn millet rotations to wheat fallow rotations,
which are the typical for that part of the country. OK, a short summary. Again, we talked about that. As we review these, we will
be going into the database for those articles we’ll add. You simply go into the
database and click a new item, and we’ll add that. Now, there’s only a
limited number of us that would have access to this
to actually edit the database from the SharePoint. That’s what’s unique
about this project is the database can
actually be edited right within the SharePoint from those
that have permissions to do so. Things that everybody can
do– there’s an actions tab. This case, I’m in the summaries. But I can export those
to a spreadsheet, or I can view in
different manners. So you can play
around with those, and use those however
you want for your uses. You can do general searches
anywhere within the matrix. This case, I was
interested to see if I wanted to submit
some articles from ABAS. And before I do that, I could
go into this general search and type “ABAS” in there
and see what’s there. In this case, you can already
see we have a couple articles from that author. And so that way, you
don’t duplicate effort. So you might do just a simple
general search by author, or you can use a
keyword such as the soil property, that type of thing,
and do general searches. And then it provides
you the link to that article or information. OK, submitting papers– and this
is really, really important. You are our eyes and ears
out there in the field. Where we have gaps,
where we have holes, you can simply go
in here and click on submit a peer reviewed paper,
and you see some examples here that an agronomist,
Susan in Montana, the agronomist Candy in
Kansas, and then some that I submitted myself
as some examples. So you simply click on New, and
you’re going to get a screen like this. And you simply fill it in. Paper title, the
length of the paper. Or if you already
have the PDF file, you can attach that as well. The author. And then we have
a list of things that you check– which
practices you feel apply, what region of the
country you feel it applies to, et cetera. So kind of a fill in the blank. And then we plan to basically
look at these probably at least semi-annually to
update this database. But again, do some
screening for us. Don’t submit papers that
we already have in there. Make sure it applies to
practices in our dynamic soil properties that we’re
interested, whether it’s biological, chemical, physical. And things that we have holes. That’s what we’re
really looking for. This is an example that
Susan Tallman in Montana submitted to me, doing
some emailing with her, on a field scale study that
was done in Montana on summer fallow with single species
legume cover crops and wheat rotations. And part of this
paper, you can see the photos here of
the field size plots that’s summarized in this. And this is just an example
where Susan completed. She did a very good
job, by the way, if you’re listening, Susan. So she talked about basis,
what it’s comparing, checked off the properties
and the practices that were evaluated. OK, we’re just about
done here, David. And we’ll take some questions. But this is kind
of my ending slide before we go to questions. Summary of the project. The website and the SharePoint–
the key to this project is the updates, and adding
important literature that you guys are
aware of out there. We’re not only looking at
positive, but negative impacts. Me as a conservation planner, I
want to know what systems work, what the research
says, as well as I’m interested in what producers
are doing on the land. That’s not going to be
peer reviewed research, but that’s going to help me
support the science behind what I’m recommending so that
I don’t make the mistakes. SharePoint updates. We plan to do a
matrix addition as we get some [INAUDIBLE] and
time, of course– staff time. Semi-annual updates,
I mentioned. Update practice summaries. We may, if you have an
interest in other practices, as we get additional
research and information, we can update those and
provide more information. I mean, it’s kind
of almost endless, depending on staff
time, et cetera. Additional properties. We plan to probably
do– and I’ve talked to Dave and David–
Dave Hoover and David Lamm about this, but do
one major update where we add other properties
and possibly some economics. So we want to do that one
time, because you can see it’s a lot of work to go back to
all the papers we already have in there, and does it
apply to this property or not? Because we want to have it
pretty accurate so that when you guys do searches,
that it’s of value to you. We don’t want to have a poor
product out there for you. Again, the uses–
and I’m thinking back when I was in field office,
area office, state office, standard development, designing
my local soil health management systems, having background for
program priorities like EQIP program priorities, good
technical background for what we’re recommending,
program targeting. And I use this a lot of
times for presentations– my PowerPoint
presentations and things that we do for soil
health presentations around the country. OK, this is my last slide. We’ll take a few
questions, David, and then I’m hoping that
you and Dave and Bianca will go ahead and give a
closing summary as well. If you have any
questions whatsoever about using this,
or anything, feel free to email me or the
others on our staff. And again, it’s this easy
to find the public site in the links. In Google or Bing, just type
Soil Health Literature Review, and it’ll be the first
one listed, typically. Finding the SharePoint sites. The SharePoint site is
linked on the public website. It’s down on the lower right. You can click on the
link right there. OK, Mike. Just a couple questions
related to the SharePoint. First, thanks again
for doing a great job as we know you
always do, every time we get you on here
doing a webinar for us. But how do you know if
you’ve got permission? And if you don’t
have permissions, how do you get permissions to
access the SharePoint site? I think every NRCS employee has
access to the SharePoint site. We set it up for every domain
for USDA can have access to it. No restrictions there. Also, employees like
conservation district employees that have logins– they would
have access to some of this, if they’re in our office. Also, other USDA agencies
can get access to this. The one problem that our
IT folks shared with me is the way their servers
are set up at ARS. Not all ARS– the
servers aren’t set up. But even ARS can
get access to this. But Forest Service, the Farm
Service Agency, the other USDA agencies can get
access to this as well. OK. Another question is
related to your database and the discussion
about practice. Does the data dictionary include
the practice number, and maybe a definition of
what that practice is as NRCS would define it? It has the practice
number and the name. There is a definition on
the far right hand column. I’ve got Dave Hoover looking. But I think everything
that’s listed, we have on the right hand
column on the data dictionary, there’s a definition. OK. And again, that’s
a dynamic document. If you see some
improvements that you would want in that
data dictionary, that Mike’s layperson write
up in that data dictionary. If I was a DC in
Oakland, Iowa or Stanton, Nebraska where I worked, that
I would know what that meant. OK. What about activities
or practices that we don’t know
exactly– maybe the paper’s done on an
activity or a practice that doesn’t necessarily fit a 328,
a 329, a NRCS practice code? What would you suggest
on the submittal of an article related to that? That’s a real good question. I would say the way that we
looked at it, if we thought that it was a really good
article that impacted the planning principles and the
management and the soil health management systems– we
used a broad definition of the conservation
practice, and tried to fit it under the
closest practice standard. For example,
livestock integration. Where does that exactly fit? There is a practice standard
that’s in the database, and if you sort
through it, called Forage Harvest Management,
which can include grazing, can include hay, can
include all those things. So anything related to that, we
included under that practice. But again, this is dynamic. We’re going to do one major
upgrade to this database, so we would like your ideas,
if there’s something that would be simple and consistent. And working with Holli, she
did really an excellent job in making sure that what
we put in that database was consistent, and had
consistent information. So I’m looking at the
articles right now. There is one in here that
doesn’t have any practice standard associated
with it, but it relates to soil water retention. So we have cited something
like that in the past. Yeah. OK. So we could include them. You can leave any of
the columns blank, or any of the data entries. So when you’re
submitting an article, if you don’t know
which practice, you either take a guess
or just leave it blank if you’re not for sure? Is that kind of
what you’re saying? Yeah. Because for quality
control, there’s a few of us that would
actually review that article and then fill in the
appropriate columns. OK. I had a question–
again, [INAUDIBLE] keep typing them in– related
to your review process. Did you review the quality or
analyze the actual methodology that was done in the research
or in the development of the paper? How much of that did
you get involved with? We read the paper in its
entirety, for the most part. And we didn’t include
it in the database, but we had originally
had some notes. So if there was some specific
things about whether it was crops versus field
size, or something– there was some
notes to go with it. But for what the employees
are going to see, we did not do
that, other than we tried to include those
types of thought processes in the summary. And that short summary,
that’s your friend. Use that short summary, and
that’ll lead you to the well. OK. OK. Another question, again. Can CCAs get access
to the information? That would be through
the public site, correct? Yeah. CCAs or the general
public– yes, absolutely. They can go to the public site,
get access to the spreadsheet, download that to their computer,
search whatever articles are for their region
of the country or however they want to sort it. And then of course, they can
look at the short summaries. Those are available to them. OK. And this was primarily–
well, as physical and chemical properties relate
to soil health, can you speak a little bit
about the biological component? And then you also mentioned
something in there about maybe some soil
health economics, kind of like future
plans type of thing. Yeah, we didn’t spend
a lot of time on that, but ARS currently is looking
at biological property impacts of practices. And once they
provide that to NRCS, it’s our plans to try
to incorporate that into this system. And then also, some
look see at economics. And primarily, there, it would
be things like yield impacts. I don’t know how deep
we want to get there. Dave, if you have any
additional thoughts on that. But the main discussion
to this point has been primarily adding
more biological properties, because most of the
papers we searched are going to show up
primarily in physical. There’s a fair amount
of chemical properties for how it impacted nutrient
cycling and SAR, sodium, salinity, those things. But I think the biologic
component is very important. I know one of the
questions was offered on site here that are you
going to look at soil enzymes? And I think that is an important
component that we can certainly work into this in the future. OK. And I guess that’s probably
about the end of the questions, other than a couple
leading questions. Maybe I’ll throw this
one out, and that might be a good way for
Bianca and Dave to close, make some comments
to include that. The question is how
long is it going to be before NRCS incorporates
soil health into our NRCS practice standards in
such a way that it’s very visible, I guess,
would be the way to put it. I don’t know. If we don’t have Norm Widman
or a national agronomist on, but I’m on the National Practice
Standards Committee, and yes. I mean, we’re starting
to incorporate especially considerations. And then there’s some
direct relationship to soil health on
improving soil quality and those types of things. There isn’t, as you
can see when you talk about soil health, any
one soil quality parameter that applies to soil health. It’s the overall–
all the properties being near optimum so that soil
functions at its optimum level. So in general, yes,
the considerations within the national
standards, trying to make sure that we have some
good, sound criteria for some of those major
considerations– things like cropping systems
and residue management– so that we’re not
degrading the soil. That’s the big thing. Like soil organic
matter, for example– you’ll see that quite
often listed as a purpose, to improve soil organic matter. But it’s more tied to
some specific soil quality parameters in general, and
then the considerations in the standard. This last slide here
is three slides, just to give you a closing. There are two photos
of my farm in 2012, when we had a pretty bad
drought– the soybeans. And you can see we’ve been
in no till for 25 years. In some cases, we
started no tilling up to 40 years ago
on my dad’s land, and then that’s the following
year, some corn and the wheat. And then a Nebraska photo there
of the rainfall simulator. It’s doing a real excellent
job of some native grass, prairie soils on the far right. One with cover, one without. And then the same
soils with mulch. And you see the
difference in the runoff and the sediment loading. And the bottom line with what
NRCS’s purpose of soil health is not only improving the soil
health, but those off site, and those resource benefits
that our agency is all about. All right, Mike. I think that kind of
concludes all the questions. I appreciate, again, your
foresight and your insights on what you’re doing,
and really, all the hard work that you and Skye and
Faustina and others out there did in putting this together. I think you really
did an excellent job, and I think it’s something–
we’ve got 200 articles now. Who knows what the sky
is going to be on that? I could see it going
up to thousands. And it’s going to be a
workload to maintain that. That’s for sure. So with that– again,
Mike, I appreciate that. And Dave, I’ll offer you up, if
you have any closing comments on that you’d like to add. I’m just really glad
for the participation that we had in this. Lots of good questions that
showed a lot of interest. We’ll continue here
to support this site. Let it grow big. I can see a lot
of potential here. I did notice several
questions in there about making the
slides available. I think we can put those
on both the public site and on our SharePoint site so
that people can download those. So those should be coming up
fairly soon on those two sites. Thanks to all for joining. We’re committed to this, and
we’re going to stay that way. All right. And Bianca, do you have
any additional comments you’d like to make? Yes. Again, thank you very much
for pulling all this effort into this project. I think it’s a great project, a
great start to something that, as Dave already said, I
think will really expand. There’s great opportunity to
add the biological indicators, to add biological
management practices. And I think, really, as we move
forward, yes, our conservation practice standards,
we will be taking a longer, harder look at those
once we get all of the division staff on board. Right now, there’s two of us. There will be 20 of us once
we get everybody hired. And that is one
of our priorities is to look at our conservation
practice standards. Also, to really look at
our conservation planning, making sure that we are
enabling staff time for that on the ground, and for that
to inform what we do further with this project
for the project and the science based
literature to inform what we do on the ground. Looking forward to that. Thank you again, everybody. OK. And I guess I have a
few comments to add. There was a question
that came in there. Where can you buy the
rainfall simulator? And just Google. I think it’s Bud Davis, who
was a former NRCS employee, I believe, in Kansas. Google that, and
you’ll find he’s got a website which
you can order– he actually puts these things
together and sells them. And we’re finding them pop
up all over the country. I think what’s
interesting– and I’ve had the privilege to
be involved with this for the last four, five years. And where we started
off running around, and we did demos, and these
simple simplistic things with slake tests, the
infiltration tests, rainfall simulators, things that
we all can see and observe with our eyes. And I think what the
exciting thing is now we’re getting the science
that supports what our eyes and our
intuition was telling us, and that was the key to
what this project is. So it’s grown more
than just a feel good thing into a
science based effort, and I really appreciate
what’s going on. And look forward to good
stuff in the future. And kind of some
concluding comments here. We had over 550 participants
on today’s webinar. For those wanting
to earn the CEUs, you might expect a
little bit of a delay in accessing the post
test due to the volume, so please be patient. You can leave the step
two browser window open and step away a few
minutes and return, and hopefully, maybe the traffic
will slow down a little bit, and you can complete
the webinar process. And with that– And with that, anybody
else have any comments? David? Yeah. David, real quick,
you might share– we do have a webinar next
week, one week from today, on soil health nutrient tool
and the soil health nutrient project. I don’t know if you want
to share anything on that. Yeah. I actually did have a
question in there concerning NRCS efforts or attempts to
develop an aggregated soil health index that kind of cuts
across the physical, chemical, and biological conditions. And yes, NRCS is
working on that. One effort is Dr. Rick Haney’s
soil health and nutrient tool, who’s– a lot of folks out there
have been involved with that and aware of what he’s doing,
kind of looking at a new approach or a different
approach to nutrient management. If you want to
hear more in depth about the science
behind Dr. Haney’s test you can tune in next week. I think it’s 2:00 on Tuesday. Go to the conservation
webinar link, and you ought to be able
to follow in, just like you got into this one today. 1:00 Eastern. 1:00 Eastern. OK. Excuse me. So just, again, go to the
conservation webinar site. That’s not the only
effort being made. I know that the
folks out in Lincoln are working on a soil health
rapid assessment type of tool. I know that, of course,
Bianca and her expertise brings in what we’re
doing with what was being done at Cornell with
her soil health test up there. We kind of looked at
an aggregated thing between the physical, chemical
and biological components. So there’s a lot. It’s a really dynamic process. And again, part, I think, of
what the vision might bring, working in collaboration with
the soil science side of things to bring together this
effort down the road. And hopefully,
within a few years, we’ll have multiple
tools out there. I kind of like the way
that Ray Archuleta puts it. He says, when you
go to the doctor, you get numerous
tests to come up with a diagnosis of
what might be out there. And I think that’s
kind of what it could be for a healthy,
living ecosystem. There may be several
tools out there that take us to a similar point. So with that, I
conclude my comments, and I guess we’ll call it a day. Thanks, everyone. Thank you.

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