Evaluating Soil Protein as a New Soil Health Indicator

Predicting the capacity of soil to supply nitrogen is an ongoing challenge in organic farming. Simple and affordable soil tests that can predict organic nutrient release are of particular interest for organic farmers, because organic farming exclusively relies on this microbially-driven process for crop nutrition. Emerging soil health measurements can shed insight into organic nutrient mineralization, offering organic farmers a better nutrient management tool.

This project will build on an existing study supported by Ceres Trust that is evaluating two important soil health measures (mineralizable carbon and active carbon) by adding soil protein as an additional measure of soil health. These three tests will be applied to a wide range of soils from organic farmer’s fields in Ohio. We will explore relationships among these three pools and how they relate to crop productivity. We will report the results from farmer’s fields as aggregated findings across all farms, and will work with organic farmers on evaluating, communicating, and interpreting soil health test results, as well as developing educational materials (handouts and factsheets) focusing on soil health testing on organic farms.

Developing better nutrient management tools for organic farmers will help lower environmental risks and adoption barriers. The soil health measurements proposed here have the ability to predict crop nutrient availability and can lead to best nutrient management practices, ultimately improving the productivity of organic farmers. This proposal has the potential to positively impact nutrient management on organic farms in Midwest and surrounding regions by furthering the development of these rapid and affordable soil health tests.