August 23, 2022
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June 29, 2022
University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) is a historically black 1890 land grant institution located in the Delmarva Peninsula. Most of the corn and other crops that are grown in and around UMES are used as feed for the immense poultry industry in the region. General practice in the past has been to use poultry litter as fertilizer for the feed crops based on their nitrogen needs. The ingredients of typical poultry litter have phosphorus levels that far exceed what the crop utilizes during its growth cycle if the amount of poultry litter is applied based on the nitrogen requirements of the crops. The continued decline of the water quality in the bays of the Delmarva Peninsula is now being attributed largely due to phosphorus run-offs. Crop and poultry farmers and the integrators form a delicate balance that sustains a large percentage of the local economy and as such state legislators have been slow to enact legislation despite increasing pressure from the environmental groups giving rise to a so-called “wicked problem” in the region.
A spatial map of phosphorus levels from a comprehensive soil test performed a few years ago (2013) on a 0.5-acre grid on a selected UMES agricultural field (Bozman) indicated that the average phosphorus level was extremely high at approximately 192 ppm (parts/million ~mg/kg) even though the use of poultry litter on UMES farms was discontinued at the beginning of the new millennium. This situation is not unique to UMES fields but can be observed in a large number of crop farms in the Delmarva region. Soon after taking office in 2015, Governor Hogan brought together stakeholders from the business, agriculture, and environmental groups to address unresolved issues related to the use of poultry litter as fertilizer and associated economic and environmental concerns. The enactment of the enhanced phosphorus management tool has forbidden the use of poultry litter in all farms in the eastern shore region with high phosphorus content after the enforcement of the legislation.
At UMES precision agricultural practices using grid soil sampling, site-specific application of nitrogen using drone-based prescription maps, yield monitoring with advanced combine harvesters, judicious use of irrigation water, and other smart farming tools are being utilized for environmentally friendly farming practices. The project leaders have not only worked closely with UMES farm personnel but have involved both undergraduate and graduate students in experiential learning and research endeavors integral to the overall effort. The smart farming project team has promoted the use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer on all university production agricultural fields and has continued with the annual grid soil sampling and mapping efforts on the selected field to document the anticipated gradual decline of phosphorus levels in the corn, soybean, and wheat crop rotation and harvest cycle. Kolb’s experiential cycle paradigm has provided a meaningful framework to involve student teams, advance the project goals, and promote educational outcomes for the students in both field and laboratory settings covering all aspects of the overall project. This paper is largely focused on the grid soil sampling efforts that have been undertaken by UMES students over the past several years. Over the years several improvements have been made with the hardware and software tools utilized by the team to improve the efficiency of the labor-intensive grid soil sampling efforts. The team acquired and installed an automated soil sampler on a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV). A web application has been identified and utilized by the team that allows the soil sampling grid to be rapidly developed and utilized by the UTV operator to navigate to the GPS locations and activate the automated soil sampler to significantly improve the logistics and efficiency of this otherwise extremely labor-intensive procedure. The last grid sampling and mapping completed in the 2021 fall indicate that the average phosphorus levels on the field are significantly lower and averages around 92 ppm. The paper will highlight the recent efforts of the project team involving a food science and technology(FDST) doctoral student and several engineering undergraduates utilizing the automated setup described and subsequent compilation and mapping of the soil data using appropriate software tools. The data analysis and visualization tools allowed the students to utilize all the soil sampling data acquired since 2013 and readily understand how the phosphorus levels have gradually but rather slowly diminished and reached acceptable levels over the last couple of years for the particular field.
Nagchaudhuri, A., & Mitra, M., & Ford, T., & Abuelgasim, I., & Raleigh, C. (2022, August), Grid Soil Sampling and Mapping Soil Phosphorus Distribution for an Extended Period on a Production Agricultural Field Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40874
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