Soils are not just key to crop production and food security. They form the literal foundation supporting homes, roads, septic systems, and other essential infrastructure. That’s why students in NRES 285, a laboratory and field soil judging course, learn to identify important physical properties of soil. And they’re good at it.
URBANA, Ill. — Like every industry, modern farming relies heavily on plastics. Think plastic mulch lining vegetable beds, PVC pipes draining water from fields, polyethylene covering high tunnels, and plastic seed, fertilizer, and herbicide packaging, to name a few.
Earth’s soil contains large stocks of carbon — even more carbon than in the atmosphere. A significant portion of this soil carbon is in organic form (carbon bound to carbon), called soil organic carbon (SOC). However, SOC has historically been greatly diminished by agricultural activity, releasing that carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.
URBANA, Ill. — Let’s say you’re a corn grower farming on low-fertility soil. How do you go about making that soil healthier and more fertile? Many farmers think if they add plenty of nitrogen fertilizer, that nutrient, along with carbon, will be stored in the soil as organic matter when microbes decompose crop residue.
URBANA, Ill. – In 1876, when University of Illinois professor Manly Miles established the Morrow Plots, he couldn’t have imagined the plots would become the oldest continuous agricultural experiment in the Western Hemisphere. Nor could he imagine, more than a century before the dawn of the internet, that the plots’ data would be digitized and made available online to scientists, students, and educators around the world.
URBANA, Ill. – When he heard an old barn on the University of Illinois campus was scheduled for demolition, soil scientist Andrew Margenot went to investigate. Inside, on dusty shelves, he discovered a time capsule in the form of thousands of jars of soil from around the state, some dating as far back as 1862.
URBANA, Ill. – Sometimes, a summer can change everything. For several undergraduate women in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois, a summer internship with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service revealed new career goals and delivered the skills and experience to get there.
URBANA, Ill. – Soil erosion is a significant problem for agricultural production, impacting soil quality and causing pollutants to enter waterways. Among all stages of soil erosion, gully erosion is the most severe phase, where large channels are carved through the field. Once gullies develop, they are challenging to manage through tiling; they require a more comprehensive approach along the impacted area.
URBANA, Ill. – Urban agriculture is booming, but there’s often a hidden danger lurking in city soils: lead. A recent University of Illinois study showed universally elevated lead levels in soils across Chicago, an urban ag hotspot.
URBANA, Ill. – Although about 20% of Illinois cropping systems are planted to continuous corn, it’s nearly impossible to find fields planted this way for decades at a time. Yet long-term experiments like one at the University of Illinois, including over 40 years of continuous corn under different nitrogen fertilizer rates, provide incredible learning opportunities and soil management lessons for researchers and farmers alike.