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Micro-managing soil health: leveraging plant-microbe interactions to improve the effectiveness of cover cropping strategies

Final Report for Ceres Grant 2015-01667

Anthony Yannarell
Associate Professor of Microbial Ecology
Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[email protected]
tel: 217-333-2398
fax: 217-244-3219

Project Objectives

The goal of this research project was to improve cover-cropping strategies in
organic agriculture by understanding how cover crops interact with soil
microorganisms to affect soil health. To meet this goal, we sought to address the
following specific objectives: 1) determine how different cover crops shape soil
microbial community composition; 2) identify nitrogen-sequestering and nitrogenreleasing
microbes in cover crop systems and determine how their activity changes
following cover crop termination; 3) identify weed-suppressive microbes in cover
crop systems and determine how their activity changes following cover crop
termination.

Our research program included both field-based experiments on working organic
farms and controlled laboratory experiments to characterize different aspects of soil
health. We used these two different experimental platforms to generate a large set
of samples that we further characterized by classical soil chemistry techniques and
cutting-edge, DNA-based approaches to soil microbial community ecology.

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