Soil Health

(Gretchen) Gretchen Sassenrath, at the Southeast Research and Extension Center in Parsons, Kansas. I’ve been in Kansas about two and a half years and I started looking at soil health and how to improve soil health. Soil is an important factor to improve the resilience of crop production. By resilience I mean being able to make or make a profit when times are good and also not lose your shirt when times are bad. We can’t control the weather but we can improve soil and in particular soil health and that’s an important component for consistent crop production. In looking at soil health factors there’s a lot of information about how cover crops can be used to improve soil health. I came across some interesting research on particular cover crops in the mustard family. The trait of these cover crops is that they have a glucosinolate concentration. That glucosinolate can improve soil health but it can also be used to control soil-borne diseases and pests, in particular charcoal rot, nematodes, those sort of infestations. What we’re doing in this study is using some of this mustard cover crop to control to see if it will control charcoal rot. In Southeast Kansas we have charcoal rot pressure. It’s always present in the soil during particular years. Depending on the weather, we’ll have a lot of charcoal rot infestation and pressure in the plants and it reduces yield. Charcoal rot infests the stem of the plant and reduces the water that it can uptake and reduces the yield. The roots will actually just rot off the soybean plant. There’s nothing there. They can’t take up the nutrients and water they need to grow. What we did in this study, we planted the cover crop and used it as a biological control and compared that to the standard chemical control of charcoal rot. As seed treatment and then also in-season treatment, the results are very preliminary. This is our first year of study. Also this was a very good year weather-wise for soybeans. We had a lot of rain and cooler temperatures, so there was not a lot of charcoal rot pressure this year in our soybeans. We did not see a yield difference for the different treatments or for the different cultivars. However, we did see a difference in number of colony forming units, or number of charcoal rot infestation fungi present between the different treatments and then also we saw a difference for some of the cultivars. This indicates that the mustard seed does show promise as controlling charcoal rot. And also that some soybean cultivars are more sensitive to charcoal rot than others.

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