Miscanthus, a fast-growing grass often grown as a biofuel, is now planted on six military sites, from Kansas to Kazakhstan, in a three-year NATO-run effort to clean up contaminated soil. At a conference earlier this month at Kansas State University, researchers reported that the grass stabilizes contaminants in the soil, preventing them from escaping into the air and water, and then gradually absorbs them.
The congressionally created Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has announced a $20-million research and education project to speed the adoption of soil management systems nationwide.
Farmers taking part in a survey about cover crops reported a nearly 3-percent increase in wheat yields when cover crops are used in the offseason, says the Conservation Technology Information Center. This was the first time the survey compiled enough responses to calculate the impact on wheat; past surveys associated cover crops with higher corn and soybean yields.
Research by Northeastern University indicates soil on organic farms contains more of a key component for sequestering carbon than soils on other farms, said the Organic Trade Association. The trade group said the study, which compared samples of soil from across the country, "provides a significant proof point that organic agricultural practices build healthy soils and can be part of the solution in the fight on global warming."
More than 500 people from the U.S. to Thailand have sent their sourdough bread starters to be analyzed by microbiologist as part of the Sourdough Project, led by biologist Rob Dunn at North Carolina State University. “The project is trying to answer many questions,” says NPR. “How does a starter's microbial ecosystem vary with different flours? How does a new starter compare with one that's 200 years old, filled with tradition and lore? Do they change with geography, as some claim? And, of course, how can you bake a more delicious loaf?”
A bill in the Vermont Senate calls for a statewide soil regeneration program, with regular soil testing to certify that farms are improving the health of their soil through carbon content and depth of topsoil. The bill is part of a sweep of similar legislation in California, Oklahoma and Utah.
Biointensive agriculture, a low-cost and low-tech format, could be life-changing for the small farmers of the world, who must earn a living from four acres (two hectares) or less of land, says Ensia. The system uses less fertilizer, water and energy to produce the same amount of food as conventional agriculture, writes Bob Cooper.
Restoring grasslands and other ecosystems that have been destroyed by agriculture can take decades. But a team of ecologists from The Netherlands has discovered a way to do it in just six years—by “inoculating” the degraded soil with a thin layer of soil from a healthy field, according to a report in Science on a study published in the journal Nature Plants.
A survey of over 400 young farmers and ranchers in the western United States found that finding water was even more of an issue than access to land and capital, says Civil Eats.
Lead contamination, often acute, is common in New York City’s urban garden soil, according to a new study from the City University of New York. Published in the journal Soil Science earlier this month, the study evaluated 1,652 soil samples, volunteered from 904 home and community gardens, for contamination by a number of trace metals. It says the city’s soil contains higher average concentrations of lead than a number of other metropolitan areas, including Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Bangkok, Berlin and Baltimore.