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A man's hand holding a handful of soil in a field.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The United States food production system is fragile and easily disrupted. To ensure that it remains viable, a special science is used to ensure minimal pollution of natural resources. Rishi Prasad, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System crop, soil and environmental sciences specialist, said the art of sustainable science is one of many focuses in Extension research.

Creating the Canvas

Prasad said the entire food production system depends on soil health. In fact, this has been the case for hundreds of years.

“When looking back into history, we see that civilizations perished solely because the local soil health deteriorated over time and could not supply nutrients to plants,” Prasad said. “People had to move to new areas which can support crop production.”

This canvas of crop production has even more importance in the modern era of agriculture. Because of a consistently growing population, soil health and nutrient management could be the key to everyone’s survival–reinforcing individual’s investments in their local soils.

“If we lose our topsoil, the food security system will be compromised,” Prasad said. “This is where research plays an important part in farmers’ informed decision making.”

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Alabama farmers have adopted science-based recommendations also known as best management practices (BMPs). These are developed through years of professional research and later provided to farmers for adoption. Think of BMPs as a fresh coat of paint to traditional farming practices.

Prasad said one of the best BMPs is widely used in Alabama agriculture in the principle of the four Rs: the right source, the right rate, at the right time and using the right method.

“Alabama farmers have ensured that they use these recommendations over the years–not only to maximize crop production, but also to protect the environment,” he said.

Soil nutrient management has also progressed in tandem with technology. Modern tools–such as smart phones, tablets and other electronics–allow for scientific knowledge to be delivered quickly and on the fly.

Varieties of Colors

Scientists have high-level access to soil science and information. A wide variety of people can begin investing in their local soils­, not with money but with education. Topics such as soil and manure tests, application rates of fertilizer and proper application techniques are the best place to start.

“Everyone should learn about their own present soil health and nutrients by first learning about soil itself,” Prasad said. “There are practical exercises such as grid sampling, soil testing, variable rate nutrient application, four R’s of fertilizer and manure application that open the door to learning the art of soil nutrient management.”

Prasad said one of the easiest ways to begin is to test your soil. Farmers and even homeowners can use soil test kits to see what nutrients are required to grow a healthy crop. For more information regarding acquiring one of these kits, contact a local Alabama Extension office.

A Sculptor’s Appreciation

During his educational career, Prasad conducted many field studies by himself to practice growing crops such as rice, wheat, corn and soybeans. By acting as a farmer through field studies, he realized the difficulties farmers face in food production.

“I highly respect the people who are in the noble profession of farming,” he said. “Feeding the world is a hard thing to do and you cannot produce something out of nothing. Farmers need healthy soils that can ensure ample supply of nutrients for their plants.”

Prasad’s appreciation for agriculture grew after learning the skills needed to produce more food from the same area of land. Since then, he has dedicated his work to consistently find ways to help farmers do their jobs every day.

“Throughout my journey, I have developed several tools and techniques to help optimize soil nutrient supply,” Prasad said. “Each one of them will continue to help maximize yield for farmers while reducing negative impacts on the environment.”

Down to Earth: Agriculture Sustains Alabama

Alabama Extension is getting Down to Earth. Why? Because agriculture sustains Alabama. Whether your ag experience is in the grocery store, in the classroom or as your profession—Extension has a resource for you.

We are proud to be partnering with the Alabama Agribusiness Council, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, the Alabama Forestry Commission, Sweet Grown Alabama and the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils.

Alabama Extension’s Down to Earth resources are available on www.aces.edu/go/DowntoEarth.


Down to Earth: Agriculture Sustains Alabama