University to study use of manure, mulch to improve soil with environmental trust grant

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University to study use of manure, mulch to improve soil with environmental trust grant


A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project studying the combined use of manure and mulch to improve soil has received a $59,813 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Amy Schmidt, associate professor in biological systems engineering and animal science, leads the project.

Crop fertility and soil management decisions are often based on a goal of maximizing crop yield. While achieving maximum yield is a worthwhile aspiration, increasing inputs such as fertilizer to a system at a cost greater than the value of the incremental yield improvement is a poor financial decision. It also can be a major contributor to nitrate leaching into groundwater and nutrient runoff to surface waters. Where soil has not received organic amendments for many years, soil health and productivity are likely to decline, making plants’ use of nutrients less efficient. In addition, soil is less resilient to erosion, crusting, ponding and pests. Microbes and organic matter in carbon-based amendments are critical to maintaining good soil structure and function.

Two soil amendments known to benefit plant productivity — manure and mulch — are often not used in crop systems due to economic, social and behavioral barriers. Demonstrating the value of manure and mulch to cropland under varying management regimes and soil conditions, telling a compelling story about profitability versus yield alone and delivering consistent educational messages around these topics are critical to increase stakeholder confidence in identifying situations where profitability can be maximized and soil resilience improved with manure and/or mulch addition.

There’s a potential for funding of $81,949 next year. This project is a continuation of an effort funded by the 2017 NET grant cycle, which has supported on-farm research and demonstration of manure and mulch as crop land amendments on six farms statewide for the past two years.

The project is one of 118 receiving $20 million in grant awards from the NET this year. Of these, 73 were new applications and 45 are carry-over projects.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $328 million in grants to more than 2,300 projects across the state. Anyone – citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses – can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

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