From left to right: (1) Collecting soil from a farmer's field, (2) prepping soil samples from all over Ohio for analysis, (3) running samples for Wet Aggregate Stability with the dunker machine
Recognizing that agricultural research cannot solely be solved through on-station field experiments, our lab is dedicated to working in collaboration with social scientists, extension educators, and with producers in the Midwest.
After receiving IRB approval, our research team recruited row-crop farmers in Ohio, distributed management surveys, and collected mail-in soil samples from participating farms. Sprunger Lab then used these soil samples to assess chemical, physical, and biological soil health indicators. Biological parameters included nematode indices and enzyme analyses which are data that farmers do not have access to through commercial lab testing. After compiling the data, we conducted virtual interviews with farmers to discuss their individual fields and share with them a comprehensive soil health report with all measured soil health indicators.
With this project, we are exploring how soil health indicators vary across farmer fields and how they align with farmer perceptions of their fields. By collaborating with farmers directly, we are learning what challenges farmers face in understanding novel soil health data. Additionally, we are discovering what barriers might exist for producers as they adopt new management practices, and how they intend to adapt their farms for impending climate variability.
Given that farmers primarily have access to chemical soil health tests, our interdisciplinary research team is also focusing on how best to translate the biological soil health data we provide to farmers who may be unfamiliar with parameters such as soil protein, active carbon, respiration, free-living nematode assessment, and enzyme activity. Communicating this science with audiences beyond the scientific community is essential within the realm of agroecological systems which involve many stakeholders outside of an institutional setting.
Additionally, sharing data with farmers and offering consultation regarding the data is a way in which we, researchers, can give back to the community of producers that are helping us answer our research questions.