Stark Sustainable Soils Initiative

Postdoctoral Researcher Gunadhish Khanal (far left) with interns Nathan Shumaker and Jalen Gilbert (left to right) and Postdoctoral Researcher Lauren Baldarelli (far right) collect soil samples. Photo courtesy Lauren Baldarelli.

Sponsored by the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, the project completes its fourth year

By Lauren Baldarelli

Principal Investigators Dr. Rattan Lal and Heather Neikirk worked to bring the Stark Sustainable Soils Initiative into its fourth year with Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Lauren Baldarelli, who joined the team in March of 2023. In late June, the team started crop measurements that took place every 2 weeks throughout the growing season. This involved recording how tall the corn and soybeans were, determining growth stages of the crops (either vegetative or reproductive), and noting any pests or visible signs of plant stress. This continued until the beginning of September. Fellow Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Gunadhish Khanal from the HWH collaboration with Kent State, and interns Nitesh Kandel of Youngstown State University and Kaitlyn Cowley from the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation contributed greatly to the success of this part of the project. 

September was also the start of soil sampling. Dr. Baldarelli and her team sampled all 12 of our participating farms and 2 wooded sites within our Stark County. This resulted in a total of 138 soil core samples and soil bulk density cores from 5 different sites. All soil core samples were air dried and sieved through 2mm mesh. Some of the soil was sent to the Service Testing And Research Laboratory (STAR) laboratory at Ohio State for Mehlich-3 extraction to determine plant available soil nutrients. The rest was used to determine soil organic matter and soil organic carbon and total nitrogen at the Lal Carbon Center Columbus, Ohio. The bulk density cores were oven dried to determine bulk density. They were also wet sieved to account for gravel content in each of our samples.

Thresher used to separate grains from pods or ears. Photo courtesy Gunadhish Khanal.The team also harvested crop samples from a 1x1m plot at each of the 5 sites within each farm. This year, most farmers were growing soybeans; a couple growing corn; the rest have long- term forage/hay fields; and one growing oats. The soybean crops were threshed at Snyder Farm (OSU Wooster) to separate the grain from the stock. Corn kernels were separated by hand from the cob for grain analysis. All grain samples were sent to the STAR lab for nutrient analysis. Sampling completed in late October.

Lauren and her team thank Danielle DeYoung of Malone University for her help in the field, the Massillon NRCS office for letting us take over their lab (and office!), and many thanks to Jalen Gilbert and Nathan Shumaker, two interns from Malone University for all their work in both the field and the lab.

Most of November was spent in the lab processing samples. Dr. Lauren moved to Columbus for 5 weeks to complete the following analyses with Dr. Guna: bulk density, soil pH and electrical conductivity, soil organic matter, total carbon and nitrogen, soil respiration and aggregate stability. It was great to work in lab at the Lal Carbon Center, join meetings in person and explore the Columbus area. Many thanks to Lab Manager Kyle Sklenka and Research Technician Brennan Spaulding for all of their help in the lab.

The upcoming winter months will be focused on data analysis and scientific writing.