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Alternative Biomass Cropping Systems & Microbial Processes

A critical gap in making progress toward ecologically beneficial farming practices is an explicit understanding of how soils store carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) over the long term. Farmers are facing new challenges that require management practices for improving soil quality, increasing both belowground (live roots) and aboveground (live cover) biomass, increasing soil organic matter, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To identify optimal man¬agement strategies, an understanding of microbial processes that regulate C and N cycling is essential. It is known that microbial activity is strongly influenced by both soil moisture and vegetation, and that microbial metabolism regulates the production of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, as well as the transfor¬mation of plant material into soil organic matter. Therefore, landscape position and cropping system are important factors determining the availability of water, N and C, which are the substrates for microbial metabolism.

This research aims to develop a new under¬standing of which cropping systems favor soil organic matter formation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing a mechanistic understanding of the soil microbial processes that regulate soil C and N cycling. This research is being conducted at the Uthe Farm in collaboration with Lisa Schulte Moore, Tom Isenhart, Emily Heaton, Rick Hall, Arne Hallam, Matt Helmers, Ken Moore and Randy Kolka.

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