Multi-Purpose Cover Crops to Enhance The Environment and Farm Profitability
Cover crops are plants grown to increase the quality and productivity of the soil as well as increase the amount of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere. We are developing new cover crops, such as the Forage Radish, that can provide a wide range of benefits including the alleviation of soil compaction by root biodrilling, the capture of excess nitrogen to prevent water pollution and its subsequence release to reduce fertilizer requirements, the suppression of weeds to reduce the need for tillage and herbicides, and the regulation of the soil microbial system to enhance synergies and inhibit pathogens.
Soil Quality Management for Sustainable Agriculture
Soil quality is a concept that integrates soil physical, biological and chemical properties in a way that describes the capacity of the soil to provide such ecosystem functions as plant productivity, water purification and carbon sequestration. Optimizing the amount and quality of soil organic matter is often critical for improved soil function. We are researching sustainable farming systems that manage soil organic matter and enhance profitability, environmental quality and food production. We are also developing robust methods that can be used in the field to assess the impact of agricultural practices on soil quality.
Active Organic Matter Test to Help Farmers Profitably Improve Soil Quality
Research Area(s): Biology and Ecology of Soils, Soil Chemistry and Biochemistry, Soil Microbiology, Soil Quality.
Soil Quality (SQ) is rapidly joining air and water quality as a major goal of natural resource management. A practical measure of SQ should emphasize soil properties that are affected by agronomic practices. Most of the functions associated with soil quality are strongly influenced by soil organic matter, especially the small portion (usually < 10% of total C) that is termed active organic C. This project integrates key chemical, physical and biological soil measurements, as well as experience-based judgements by farmers, into a SQ Index that is sensitive to management.
Environmental Impacts of Management Intensive Grazing Based Dairy Farms
Research Areas: Land Management and Conservation, Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management.
Dairy farming in the United States has become increasingly capital-intensive, using management schemes that confine large herds of highly productive dairy cows on a small part of the farm while practicing high-input crop production on most of the land. Large machines harvest the crops and bring them to the cows while other machines haul the cow manure out to the fields to fertilize the soil. Most US dairy farms are based on such confined feeding practices. To be profitable, these farms generally use economies of scale and high milk production from a large herd to support the extensive infrastructure required. With increased herd size, a significant portion of the feed is usually purchased and imported, leading to potential nutrient loading on the farm. Read More>>
Do Current Regulations Protect Soil Ecosystems from Metal Toxicity?
Research Area(s): Soil Microbiology, Soil Quality.
Current regulations on total metal loading to soils by sewage sludge (biosolids) in both the Europe and the US were designed to protect crops, water quality and the human food chain, but did not consider effects on soil quality, soil microorganisms or soil microbial ecosystem processes. Recent research in Europe has suggested that even at legally permissible levels, metals such as Cu, Zn, Cd, Ni and Pb may have negative impacts on soil microbial ecosystems or such key individual microorganisms as Rhizobia leguminosarum.
Improvements in Ridge TillageResearch Area(s): Land Management and Conservation, Soil Physics.
Ridge tillage was investigated as a possible alternative tillage system that might reduce both surface runoff and leaching down to the groundwater. We measured soil water content in a three-dimensional grid so that we could tell how ridge tillage affected the distribution of water in the soil profile.
ENST 105 Soil and Environmental Quality (3 credits) Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ENST 105 or NRSC 105. Formerly NRSC 105. Soil as an irreplaceable natural resource, the importance of soils in the ecosystem, soils as sources of pollution, and soils as the media for the storage, assimilation or inactivation of pollutants. Acid rain, indoor radon, soil erosion and sedimentation, nutrient pollution of waters, homeowners' problems with soils, and the effect of soils on the food chain.
ENST 200 Fundamentals of Soil Science (4 credits). Prerequisite: CHEM 103, or CHEM 131 and CHEM 132; or permission of department. Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ENST 200 or NRSC 200. Formerly NRSC 200. Study and management of soils as natural bodies, media forplant growth, and ecosystem components. Morphology, composition, formation, and conservation of soils. Chemical, biological, andphysical properties are discussed in relation to the production of plants, the functioning of hydrologic and nutrient cycles, the protection of environmental quality, and engineering uses of soils. I download course syllabus I
ENST 411 Principles of Soil Fertility (3 credits) Prerequisite: ENST 200 or equivalent. Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ENST411 or NRSC411. Formerly NRSC 411. Soil factors affecting plant growth and quality with emphasis on the bio-availability of mineral nutrients. The management of soil systems to enhance plant growth bymeans of crop rotations, microbial activities, and use of organic and inorganic amendments. I download course syllabus I
ENST 441 Sustainable Agriculture (3 credits) Credit will be granted for only oneof the following: ENST441 or NRSC441. Formerly NRSC 441. Environmental, social and economic needs for alternatives to the conventional, high-input farming systems which currently predominate in industrial countries. Strategies and practices that minimize the use of non-renewable resources. Sustainable Agriculture (3 credits). I download course syllabus I
Weil, R.R., and N.C. Brady. 2017. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 15th ed. Pearson, Columbus. 1086 p. ISBN-13: 9780133254488.
Brady, N.C. and R.R. Weil. 2010. Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils 3rd Edition. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Weil, Ray R. 2009. Lab Manual for Introductory Soil Science. 8th ed. Kendall Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa.
Brady, Nyle and Ray Weil. 2008. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 14th ed. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. 975 p. ISBN 13-978-0-13-227938-3.
Magdoff, F., and R.R. Weil, (eds.). 2004. Soil Organic Matter in Sustainable Agriculture. CRC Press, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Brady, N.C. and R.R. Weil. 2002. The Nature and Properties of Soils 13th Ed. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Weil, R.R. and W. Kroontje. 1984. The Nature and Properties of Soils: A Study Guide. MacMillan Pub. Co, New York, NY.
Chapters in Books
Heckman, J.R., R.R. Weil, and F. Magdoff. 2009. Practical steps to soil fertility for organic agriculture, p. 139-173, In C. A. Francis, ed. Organic farming: The ecological system. American Society of Agronomy/ Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI.
Weil, Ray. 2001. Soil management for sustainable intensification: some guidelines. p. 145-154. In Keeney, D Sustainability of Agricultural Systems in Transition. Agronomy Society of America Special Publication 64, ASA, Madison, WI.
Bottrell, D.G. and R.R. Weil. 1995. Protecting crops and the environment: striving for durability. p. 55-72.
In A.S. Juo Bridging Food Production and Environmental Quality in Developing Countries. ASA Spec. Publ. 60,.Weil, R.R. and S.K. Mughogho. 1993. Nutrient Cycling By Acacia albida in Agroforestry Systems. p. 97-108. In Ragland Technologies for Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics. Amer. Soc. of Agronomy Spec. Publ. 56.
Lounsbury, N.P., and R.R. Weil. 2015. No-till seeded spinach after winterkilled cover crops in an organic production system. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 30:(in press).
Belle, A.J., S. Lansing, W. Mulbry, and R.R. Weil. 2014. Anaerobic co-digestion of forage radish and dairy manure in complete mix digesters. Bioresource Technology. 10.1016/j.biortech.2014.09.036
Wang, F., Y.A. Tong, P. Gao, J. Zhang, R.R. Weil, and J.N. Coffie. 2014. Organic amendments to a wheat crop alter soil aggregation and labile carbon on the loess plateau, China. Soil Science 179:166-173.
Tulley, K. R.R. Weil, C. Palm. 2014. Ion selective electrode offers accurate, inexpensive method for analyzing soil solution nitrate in remote regions. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 45: 1974-1980.
Chen, G., R.R. Weil and R. Hill. 2014. Effects of Compaction and Cover Crops on Soil Least Limiting Water Range and Air Permeability. Soil & Tillage Research 136:61-69.
Geatz, G.W., B.A. Needelman, R.R. Weil, and J.P. Megonigal. 2013. Nutrient availability and soil organic matter decomposition response to prescribed burns in mid-Atlantic brackish tidal marshes. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 77:1852–1864.
Lucas, S.T., and R.R. Weil. 2012. Can a labile carbon test be used to predict crop responses to improve soil organic matter management? Agronomy J. 104:1160-1170.
Lawley, Y.E., J.R. Teasdale, and R.R. Weil. 2012. The mechanism for weed suppression by a forage radish cover crop. Agronomy J. 104:205-214.
Gruver, J., R.R. Weil, C. White, and Y. Lawley.2012.Radishes – a new cover crop for organic farming systems. e-Organic e-Extension, http://www.extension.org/pages/64400/radishes-a-new-cover-crop-for-organic-farming-systems
Bickford, W., B. Needelman, R. Weil, and A. Baldwin. 2012. Vegetation response to prescribed fire in mid-atlantic brackish marshes. Estuaries and Coasts 35:1432-1442.
Chen, G., and R.R. Weil. 2011. Root growth and yield of maize as affected by soil compaction and cover crops. Soil and Tillage Research 117:17-27.
White, C.M. and R. R. Weil. 2009. Forage radish and cereal rye cover crop effects on mycorrhizal fungus colonization of corn roots. Plant and Soil 328:507-521.
Chen, G., and R.R. Weil. 2010. Penetration of cover crop roots through compacted soils. Plant and Soil 10.1007/s11104-009-0223-7.
Gruver, L.S., R.R. Weil, I.A. Zasada, S. Sardanelli, and B. Momen. 2010. Brassicaceous and rye cover crops altered free-living soil nematode community composition. Applied Soil Ecology (in press) (doi:10.1016/j.apsoil.2009.11.007)
Dean, J.E., and R.R. Weil. 2009. Brassica cover crops for N retention in the Mid-Atlantic coastal plain. J Environ Qual 38:520-528. Wills, S., B. Needelman and R. Weil. 2008. Carbon distribution in restored and reference marshes at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science 54:239 – 248.Gruver, Joel and Ray Weil. 2007. Farmer perceptions of soil quality and their relationship to management- sensitive soil parameters. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22: 271-281.Weil, R., and A. Kremen. Thinking across and Beyond Discipines to Make Cover Crops Pay. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87:551-557.
Waddell, J.T. and R.R. Weil. 2006. Effects of Fertilizer Placement on Solute Leaching under Ridge Tillage and No Till. Soil & Tillage Research. 90:194-204.
Wienhold, B.J., and R.R. Weil. 2006. Preserving Soil and Crop Resources by Increasing Cropping Intensity and Decreasing Tillage. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 21:1-2.
Williams, S.M., and R.R. Weil. 2004. Crop Cover Root Channels May Alleviate Soil Compaction Effects on Soybean Crop. Soil Sci Soc Am J 68:1403-1409.
Gilker, R.E., R.R. Weil, and B. Mertz, (eds.). 2004. Making the Switch: Two Successful Dairy Graziers Tell Their Stories. Future Harvest - Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture:1-16.
Weil, R.R., K.R. Islam, M.A. Stine, J.B. Gruver, and S.E. Samson- Liebig. 2003. Estimating Active Carbon for Soil Quality Assessment: A Simplified Method for Lab and Field Use. Amer. J. of Alternative Agric. 18:3-17.
Weil, R.R., and R.E. Gilker. 2003. Management intensive grazing: Environmental impacts and economic benefits. Fact Sheet. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.:.
Weil, R.R., and S.A. Williams. 2003. Brassica cover crops to alleviate soil compaction (available for download in MS Word format or Adobe Acrobat format. Fact Sheet. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.:.
Weil, Ray R. 2003. Getting To Know a Catena: A Field Exercise for Introductory Soil Science. J. Nat. Resour. Life Sci. Educ. 32 :1-4.
Weil, Ray R. 2002. Soil and Environmental Quality: A Course for Non-Majors. J. Nat. Resour. Life Sci. Educ. 31:117-122.
Stine, M. A. and Weil, R. R. 2002. The relationship between soil quality and crop productivity across three tillage systems in south central Honduras. Amer. J. Alternative Agric. 17:2-8.
Gilker R.E., Weil R.R., Krizek D.T. and Momen B. 2002. Eastern Gamagrass Root Penetration in Adverse Subsoil Conditions. Soil Science Society of America Journal 66:631-638.
Weil, Ray. 2000. Soil and Plant Influences on Crop Response to Two African Phosphate Rocks. Agronomy Journal 92:1167-1175.
Islam, K.R. and R.R. Weil. 2000. Soil quality indicator properties in the mid-Atlantic region as influenced by conservation management. Jour. Soil and Water Conserv. 55:69-78.
Islam, K.R. and R.R. Weil. 2000. Land use effect on soil quality in tropical forest ecosystem of Bangladesh. Agric., Ecosystems, and Environ. 79:9-16.
Weil, Ray R. and Spider K. Mughogho. 2000. Sulfur nutrition of maize in four regions of Malawi. Agronomy Journal 92:649-656.
Islam, K.R. and R.R. Weil. 1998. Microwave irradiation of soil for routine measurement of microbial biomass. Biology and Fertility of Soils 27:408-416.
Islam, K.R. and R.R. Weil. 1998. A rapid microwave digestion for colorimetric measurement of soil organic carbon. Commun. Soil Sci. and Plant Anal. 29:2269-2284.
Cartron, J. and R. Weil. 1998. Seasonal trends in soil nitrogen from injected or surface-incorporated sewage sludge applied to corn. Commun. Soil Sci. and Plant Anal. 29:121-139.
Weil, R.R., K.A. Lowell, and H.M. Shade. 1993. Effects of intensity of agronomic practices on a soil ecosystem. Amer J. Altern. Agric. 8:5-14.
Craig, J.P., and R.R. Weil. 1993. Nitrate leaching to a shallow mid-Atlantic coastal plain aquifer as influenced by conventional no-till and low-input sustainable grain production systems. Water Science & Technology 28:691-700.
Weil, R.R. and M.E. McFadden. 1991. Fertility and weed stress effects on performance of maize/soybean intercrop. Agron J. 83:717-721.
Weil, R. R. 1990. Defining and using the concept of sustainable agriculture. J. Agron. Educ. 19:126-130.
Weil, R.R., R.A. Weismiller, and R.S. Turner. 1990. Nitrate contamination of groundwater under irrigated coastal plain soils. J. Environ. Qual. 19:441-448.
Weil, R.R. 1982. Maize-weed competition and soil erosion in unweeded maize. Tropical Agriculture 59:207-213.
Weil, R.R. and W. Kroontje. 1977. Grade inflation: causes and cures. J. Agron. Educ. 6:29-34.
Weil, R.R., and W. Kroontje. 1976. Improving the quality of computer-scored tests in agronomic courses. J. Agron. Education. 5:78-86.
Sarah is a Ph.D. student. The principle goal of her PhD dissertation research at University of Maryland is to investigate and implement cover cropping systems that can capture deep soil nitrogen (N) and release it for subsequent crops rather than allow its loss to eutrophication-sensitive waters, while at the same time saving farmers money (e.g., fertilizer costs). By deep soil N we mean N entrained in the soil profile between 50 and 210 cm deep –deeper than usually investigated. In the mid-Atlantic, USA, where the winter “off-season” spans seven months (October- April), pools of N found deep in the soil profile will likely leach over the winter beyond the rooting range of subsequent crops. We are investigating various cover crop species within three functional groups—brassica (forage radish), winter cereal (e.g., rye, triticale, oats, wheat), and legume (Crimson clover)—planted in monoculture and in mixtures. We are using heavy-isotope 15-N to track the movement of deep soil N in soil, cover crops, and subsequent corn. We are also testing various species and planting methods (e.g., aerial seeding, interseeding, and irrigation). Sarah is collaborating with farmers and extension agents throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania. The interest and response among farmers has been outstanding and we have performed 24 on-farm cover crop trials during two years.
“My education and experiences have convinced me that there does not have to be a conflict between agricultural production and environmental quality. I aspire to continue researching ways to have productive, profitable agriculture and yet conserve soil, water, and biodiversity. I enjoy working with diverse communities and farmers. I am passionate about studying agriculture because I see it as a meeting point where the environment is intricately connected to society.”
Stan is a MSc student in Soil Science from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. He is also a Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP) Fellow and is working in the Weil lab at UMD to further sharpen his research skills and broaden his perspectives. He is taking learning about experimental design, sustainable farming at the large mechanized as well as small hand powered scales. He is also taking soil samples, processing foliar samples and conducting chemical analysis for nutrient content. When Stan returns to Malawi, he plans to work in training farmers in conservation agriculture, and planting systems.
Natalie Agee is an undergraduate research assitant and junior in Environmental Science and Technology ay UMd concentrating in Soil Science and Watershed Management. Currently, she is assisting on a project measuring cover crop efficiency as it relates to nitrogen conservation. With this background, Natalie is interested in studying and working towards a solution regarding food insecurity in urban settings. In addition to working on research, Natalie is earning a minor in Sustainability Studies, is an Ag Discovery Mentor during the summer, volunteers as a student representative for college of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and is a member of the UMD Soil Judging Team. After graduation, Natalie aspires to join the Peace Corps and continue her education in the Masters International Program studying urban sustainable agriculture and agroforestry. Natalie enjoys being “able to apply my academic course work to real-world applications by studying nutrient interaction between soil and plants”.
Allen Burke is an undergrad research assistant. He is a Soils and Watershed Science major planning to graduate in Spring 2017. He collects field soil cores and plant biomass samples, and then back in the lab he weighs, dries, and extracts soils for the deep nitrogen study. He also works on research on Soybean Sulfur Fertility. He hopes “to use the knowledge and experience I gain from these jobs to have a successful career in figuring out ways to make agriculture more efficient and sustainable.”
Dan is an undergraduate research assistant concentrating in Soil and Watershed Science with a minor in Hydrology. He is conducting research that the Weil labis conducting with the National Park Service, Inventory & Monitoring Program. He is surveying soil quality at national park sites in the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also worked on a Capstone team advised by Professor Weil studying nitrogen leaching in the porewater under different crop species and mixtures of cover crops species. Once he completes his undergraduate studies he plan to enroll in the graduate program for soil and watershed science at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Keri is a Junior Plant Science major at the University of Maryland. She is currently assisting in the Weil lab on a research project to determine how cover crops interact with deep nitrogen. Her duties include soil core and biomass sample collection, as well as sample processing. In the plant Science Dept. she previously worked research involving blueberry breeding. In the future, Keri hopes to continue researching new, more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to grow crops, and “eventually, settle down into a small greenhouse with a good book, WWOOF, or simply take time to travel the world.”
Alexandra Kramer is an undergraduate research assistant, working in both the lab and in the field. She has worked primarily on research investigating multi-purpose cover crops, and will continue to work full time on the project over the summer of 2016. She is an Environmental Science and Policy major with a concentration in geoscience and restoration. Beginning in April, she will began her year term as an Undergraduate Student Representative for the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) on the 2016-2017 University Senate. She was also the winner of the 2014-2015 Green Scholarship in Environmental Science and Policy from CMNS. After graduation from the University of Maryland, Alexandra hopes to work in the Peace Corps before attending graduate school for Environmental Science.
Rachel is an undergraduate Plant Science major and undergraduate research assistant in the Weil lab working on sulfur (S) fertility for soybeans with a focus on the contribution of sulfur content to protein quality and crop nutrition. She has previously worked on genetic diversity and developmental mechanisms of diploid strawberry. Through these experiences and her continued work with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,
She is interested in gaining experience in both research and outreach aspects of sustainable agriculture so that, after she graduates, she can be part of a successful research base in support of more ecologically-motivated and productive agriculture.
Shelley is a Soil and Watershed Science major in the Dept. of Environmental Science and Techology. She is also a member of the U of MD soil judging team. She works as a research assistant in the Soil Quality Lab assisting with reseaech on cover crop systems and deep nitrogen. Her primary duties involve collecting biomass and taking deep soil soil cores from research sites and from on-farm experiments with commercial farmers. She is expert at preparing samples for carbon and nitrogen analysis. She is excited to also be a summer interning with the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program. Shelley hopes to use her research and internship experience to begin a career in soil conservation after graduating in May 2017.
Philip Schwartz is anundergraduate research assitant. H was raised in Kensington Maryland and is a Environmental Science and Technology major at the University of Maryland. He enjoy taking the deep soil cores in the field and visiting the various farms across the region. He also does a lot of soil processing in the lab. He is interested in soil conservation and hopes to join the Peace Corps after graduating with theBS degree
Albert is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Soil and Watershed Science. He has completed his Associate Degrees in Environmental Science, Biology, and Mathematics from Cecil College. As a research assistant, he contributes towards the extraction and processing of soil and biomass samples. He is supporting research projects investigating the efficiency of various cover crops, namely clover, radish, and rye/triticale, in retaining nitrogen in the soil; thus limiting the need for chemical fertilizers. He has a passion for the outdoors and has extensive experience working in the field. Upon graduation, he plans to join the Peace Corps, WWOOF, or simply take time to travel the world.