Soil Conservation and Restoration - Protection of our soil resource is a key component of this program. Control of water, wind and tillage-induced erosion is necessary to maintain the soil resource and to prevent water and air pollution. Practices need to be developed that stop and reverse soil degradation (e.g., loss of organic matter, soil compaction, infertility and poor water retention). An improved understanding is needed of how soils influence greenhouse gases through carbon sequestration. Techniques are needed to measure soil salinity and develop remediation strategies at field and watershed scales. A greater understanding of the impact of non-agricultural activities on soil productivity is needed. Although individual soil properties can be measured, we do not yet have the capability to assess soil quality or health for a range of uses and functions. Soil quality assessment will encompass studies of soil properties/processes and indicators, measurement tests and protocols, and interpretive tools and decision support aids.
Soil Water - Improving soil water infiltration, storage and use by crops has economic and environmental benefits. Research to increase soil infiltration to reduce runoff and sediment transport of agricultural chemicals to surface waters is one focus of this component. Improving soil physical properties to improve soil water storage and use by crops will also be a focus of this program component (e.g., tillage and residue management systems and biological systems to improve crop rooting). Coordinating research to improve our fundamental understanding of soil crusting and sealing processes will result in the development of methods to reduce the impact of these processes on runoff and infiltration. Other research will focus on the development of techniques to evaluate the impact of irrigation practices on soil and other ecosystem resources. Especially critical in this area will be research to effectively use waste-waters for irrigation without degrading soil physical, chemical, or biological properties and processes.
Nutrient Management - Efficient crop nutrient use results in increased profitability and reduced potential for negatively impacting the environment. Research to improve our understanding of how tillage (primary and secondary), crop rotation, cover crops and residue management affect nutrient cycling and fertilization requirements will result in improved management systems and decision aids. Coordinating research to improve nutrient (both inorganic and organic) input, application and utilization efficiencies will also be conducted, including site-specific and precision nutrient management. Synchronizing nutrient supply with crop need, developing quick, reliable tests for nutrient availability in soil and organic matter, manures, wastes and amendments, and cover crops will also be addressed. Another focus of this program component is research to improve our understanding of how soil organic matter fractions influence soil structure, water relations, and nutrient cycling. Quantification of how nutrient use practices coordinate to soil management practices to affect environmental quality will also be addressed in this program. Research to evaluate effects of grazing and livestock systems on nutrient cycling and other indicators of soil quality is also critical to this program component.
Soil Biology - Soil management assessments and practices that sustain the soil resource must be economically viable or they will not be adopted. This research component will identify and develop management systems that improve profitability and competitiveness by increasing productivity (output per unit input). In addition, research will develop quantitative economic assessments at various scales for impacts of soil management practices both on-farm and off-farm. These results can be used by action agencies to increase acceptance of sustainable practices. Finally, research to identify and develop production systems that are less dependent on non-renewable resources will be conducted.
Productive and Sustainable Soil Management Systems -