Innovative Research Addresses Soil Health and Resiliency

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While the majority of carrots are cultivated in California, recent droughts and water use restrictions may impact the success of future crops. Even in states such as Wisconsin, where water is more abundant, crops must overcome fluctuating soil moisture regimes due to differences in soil drainage, water-holding capacity, and microclimate conditions. Organic vegetable crops can also be challenged by more slowly available soil nutrients, especially in newly organic land.

Symbiotic microbes such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) increase plants’ access to vital nutrients like nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) as well as water, contributing to improved crop yields and soil health. Although the importance of this association is widely understood, it is unknown whether different cultivars of a single crop differentially stimulate AMF populations.

OFRF has awarded Dr. Erin Silva at the University of Wisconsin a grant to study this cultivar-AMF interaction on working organic farms, evaluating the contribution to carrot growth as well as the contribution of potential cultivar-symbiont selectivity on AMF populations in a variety of soil types across organic farms in Wisconsin. They will be working with six organic farmer members of the Fairshare Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Coalition in Wisconsin during the 2017 and 2018 field seasons.

Based on this research, Dr. Silva and her team at the university will be able to make recommendations on cultivar selection and crop rotation to build beneficial soil fungal communities. These best practices will also help buffer organic producers from the perils of drought and flood, as healthy plants and thriving mycorrhizal networks enhance crop tolerance to stressful conditions.

The grant is one of six research grants OFRF awarded in 2016 to address organic farming challenges. In a national survey of organic farmers conducted by OFRF in 2015, weed and pest management, soil health, and water management during drought were identified as foremost concerns.

Since its founding in 1990, OFRF has awarded 332 grants to organic researchers and farmers, investing more than $3,000,000. All research results are freely available in our online database at ofrf.org. Read about the 2016 research grants here.

Learn more about this research grant.