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CRP Focus; Texas Tech soil research team receives $480,000 USDA-NIFA grant

CRP Focus; Texas Tech soil research team receives $480,000 USDA-NIFA grant

A multi-disciplinary team of agricultural scientists from Texas Tech has been awarded a $480,000 grant to study Lubbock area soil microbial communities, looking for key indicators of soil carbon transformations when Conservation Reserve Program land is converted to cropland. The five-year project is being funded under the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

“Our overall goal is to assess soil microbial community dynamics related to biogeochemical cycling and carbon sequestration potential under CRP and cropland in the Texas High Plains, an agriculturally critical area to U.S. cotton production,” said Jennifer Moore-Kucera, the project’s principal investigator and an assistant professor of soil and environmental microbiology with Texas Tech’s Department of Plant and Soil Science.

Today, Texas contains the largest area under the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers not to cultivate marginal land. With an abundance of expiring contracts on the horizon, some of these CRP lands may eventually be plowed and cropped, Moore-Kucera said. As a result, many of the beneficial ecosystem services previously achieved such as carbon storage and biodiversity may be at risk.

Texas Tech faculty team members include Wayne Hudnall, the B.L. Allen Endowed Chair for Pedology; Juske Horita, a professor with the Department of Geosciences; and John Zak, an ecosystem ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Other members of the project include Veronica Acosta-Martinez, a soil microbiologist at the Agricultural Research Service’s Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Unit in Lubbock; and Francisco Calderon, a soil scientist at the Agricultural Research Service Central Great Plains Resources Management Research Unit in Akron, Colo.

Among the project objectives are:
• Determine shifts in soil microbial communities structure, biogeochemical processes and soil carbon dynamics in a CRP chronosequence (26 fields) from 0 to 26 years. Chronosequence is a sequence of soils that changes gradually from one to the other with time
• Assess short-term soil microbial communities and soil carbon dynamics and biogeochemical processes as CRP land is converted to cotton during the first four years
• Develop a conceptual model to elucidate linkages between keystone bacterial and fungal species-assemblages and enhanced biogeochemical processing and carbon sequestration.

Ultimately, the multi-disciplinary research team believes that this information will aid in the selection of agricultural systems with enhanced or sustained biogeochemical process achieved by CRP if land is converted to cropland. The USDA’s CRP was introduced by the Food and Security Act of 1985 with the goal of reducing erosion by converting highly erodible croplands to perennial grasslands.

Texas leads the nation with expiring CRP contracts with more than 684,467 acres scheduled to expire last September and an additional 825,314 acres with expiring contracts this year. As these CRP contracts expire, soils which have been under long-term grassland production for 10 to 20 years may be plowed and cropped or grazed.

“In the past agricultural practices such as fallow periods, monoculture and/or intensive tillage have focused on water conservation and less on soil conservation due to low water availability from the Ogallala Aquifer,” Moore-Kucera said. “These practices contribute to a deterioration of soil structure and fertility while increasing soil erosion potential to the detriment of crop yields and sustainability.”

To sustain future agricultural activities, she said, research requires evaluating both the short- and long-term impact of management practices, including CRP land, crop rotations and tillage practices.

Written by Norman Martin

CONTACT: Jennifer Moore-Kucera, Assistant Professor Soil & Environmental Microbiology, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 2838 ext 236 or

0215NM12 / Photos: N Martin


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