July 15, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to award three grants to researchers in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas to bolster soil health by developing innovative organic strategies for controlling weeds, pests, and disease. OFRF and FFAR formed a partnership in 2019 to increase funding for research that improves soil health and reduces environmental impacts.
“Developing bold strategies to mitigate pest, weed, and pathogen damage is critical to improving environmental health,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to partner with OFRF to fund innovative soil health management techniques that enhance crop productivity and support thriving farms.”
Martin Guerena with the National Center for Appropriate Technology was awarded $17,337 to measure the efficacy of biosolarization—a new innovation in the realm of weed control that combines soil solarization (trapping solar radiation under a plastic tarp) with biofumigation (using biologically-active plant substances to suppress soil-borne pests and pathogens). Biosolarization includes the incorporation of organic amendments such as compost, cover crops, and green manure under solarization plastic. The carbon from these organic materials produces chemicals with bio-pesticidal activity, which acts as a fumigant when heated by the sun to eliminate weeds, and soil-borne pests and diseases. The research team aims to show that biosolarization can achieve equal or better weed control in less time compared to solarization alone. The research is taking place on three organic farms in the Sacramento Valley in northern California.
The semi-arid, subtropical climate in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley leads to year-round weed and pest pressure, which poses significant challenges for farmers. Historically, organic farmers in this region have relied on intensive tillage as a primary weed management strategy; yet tillage is detrimental to soil health and costly for farmers. At the University of Texas Rio Grande, Pushpa Soti received $19,620 to address weed and pest management in this region. Soti is evaluating whether cover crops can restore soil health, suppress weeds, and reduce pest populations. This research will provide farmers with information on cover crop selection and management that improves the long-term sustainability of organic agriculture systems.
Mary Barbercheck at Pennsylvania State University received $19,468 to provide farmers and agricultural professionals with information on using beneficial soil organisms to manage plant health and pests. The team is examining how to promote and conserve the beneficial soil fungus, Metarhizium robertsii. This fungus can increase plant growth and tolerance to environmental stresses, which are predicted to increase with climate change.
“Organic systems that emphasize soil health help farmers and ranchers increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “These grants directly address the need for more research on organic practices that optimize soil biological activity, biodiversity, and function in different soils and climates.”
The partnership also funded research at Montana State University to study the optimum amount of lentil seeds that should be planted on each acre to improve soil health and yields when the legume is used as part of crop rotation on organic farms. Based on the promise shown in the first year, the Montana State University team received a second grant to continue studying the benefits of incorporating lentils into organic cropping.