Penn State Soil Characterization Lab

Soil is an integral part of ecosystem function. There are 29 million acres (11,735,884 hectares) of soil in Pennsylvania supporting: wetlands; forest lands; agricultural lands; urban lands; homes, businesses, and roads; our drinking and wastewater filtration. Without soil, these activities and functions would be much more difficult and in some cases even impossible, for soil is as precious to our lives as the very blood in our bodies.

Research in the Soil Characterization Laboratory focuses on people’s use of landscapes and the accompanying changes in soil function across the larger ecosystem the soil supports. Dr. Drohan’s research group addresses basic science questions, but also demonstrates how this new knowledge can be applied to improve land management and ecosystem stability.

Soil Characterization Lab News

February 9, 2021

Changing cropping systems in impaired watersheds can produce water quality gains

PhD student Fei Jiang finds that growing the right crop in the right place within an impaired watershed can achieve significant water quality improvement. Jiang's research, published in Agricultural Systems, finds crop reallocation simulations resulted in a 15% reduction in total nitrogen losses, a 14% reduction in total phosphorus losses and a 39% reduction in sediment losses at an average annual scale across the watershed.

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February 9, 2021

Harvesting vegetation on riparian buffers barely reduces water-quality benefits

PhD student Fei Jiang finds that allowing farmers to harvest vegetation from their riparian buffers will not significantly impede the ability of those streamside tracts to protect water quality by capturing nutrients and sediment -- and it will boost farmers' willingness to establish buffers. Jiang's research is published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

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September 1, 2020

PARN Developed and Serving Pennsylvania

The goal of PARN is to rapidly scale-up an open source platform that connects producers, suppliers, manufacturers, and workers along PA’s food supply chain, thus minimizing bottlenecks. Our platform can reach a diverse group of stakeholders to provide urgently needed support now, while also building infrastructure for a more resilient regional food economy over the long term.

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March 26, 2020

COVID-19 Idea for US States: State Agriculture Assessment Team Risk Planning

Our lab group knows of no current issues with the Agricultural supply chain in the USA and COVID-19 disruptions. However, the potential trend of "soon overwhelmed health systems" has us concerned. What we are most concerned about is a fragile demographic (farming now) and the risk of C19 further disrupting it and creating a negative economic feedback. Around the USA, Land Grants could take a lead in developing Agriculture Assessment Planning Teams but state committee membership should not be limited to College of Ag members. There are likely people in Business programs, other academic departments, and outside University entities, who all could be helpful to have on such a committee. For example, are their retired military experts in logistics planning who could be members? We are currently working with others to support development of a support network for farmers.

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