What’s carbon dioxide have to do with it?

soil test kit
Gail Prunty photo

The Medina Soil and Water Conservation District received a small grant to assist farmers comparing cropfields for carbon dioxide emissions as a direct indicator of soil health.

The purpose of the effort is to have 25 participating farmers compare on farm conditions where one field has received cover crops and another field has not. The grant allowed us to purchase enough testing for 50 soil samples for 25 farms.

How it works

What we will do is solicit farmer participation, visit the farm and discuss which fields would make the most sense to draw small soil samples from and then proceed with the testing.

The testing involves taking soil temperature, bringing the soil samples back to the office, placing the soil in jars, weighing the sample, placing a reader or reactor into the jar, sealing it, and waiting 24 hours.

After 24 hours, we will read the reactor color which is an indicator of CO2 emissions. This would translate into a rating indicating degree of soil health.

CO2 emissions

We have learned that Carbon Dioxide emissions is a direct indicator of micro-biological activity in the topsoil which can be tied back to organic material in the topsoil.

Corn and bean rotations have proven to be tough on organic material over time.

Many cropfields can have high fertility, good pH, good drainage and good erosion controls, but they may not represent good soil health.

Organic matter

A standard goal for the majority of farmers is to have sufficient organic matter present and available for crop production. Livestock farmers typically should have higher organic matter numbers than crop farmers with their manure applications.

Cover crops for grain operators can be part of a field management plan to build up organic matter and start reclaiming advantages like moisture retention, micro-biological activity, weed suppression and overall soil health.

As a former Trumbull County District Conservationist, Bill Penn would say, “we need to put more hair back in the plaster.”

More information

When we complete the testing, hopefully we can share the results around late September in my next column.

All tests will remain anonymous. Our source for the Respiration Test Systems is “Solvita,” Mfr Woods End Laboratories Inc., P.O. Box 297, Mount Vernon, Maine 04352.

Call 207-293-2457 or visit www.solvita.com for more information. Solvita even has some YouTube presentations for viewing.

The source of our grant was the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, Ohio Department of Agriculture.


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Jeff is the District Manager for the Medina SWCD since 2006. Before that he was an area representative with the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation through out Northeast Ohio for most of his career. He worked closely with District Boards of Supervisors and staffs on programs and capacity building.



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