Newswise — October 1, 2019 — Gypsum, biochar, manure and other soil amendments are recycled products. Gypsum can come from coal-burning energy generators. Biochar can be made from many products – decaying trees, plant material – even manure. Cover crops and tillage strategies are also useful tools for soil health. Relaying this information to farmers across the globe, and encouraging adoption are both important topics.

A symposium covering topics in “Cross-cutting Issues in Environmental Quality” will review many of the successes of soil amendments and conservation practices for environmental quality. The symposium will run on Monday, November 11, 2019.

The symposium is part of the Embracing the Digital Environment ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The meeting is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

Large quantities of synthetic gypsum are produced from “scrubbers” that clean coal-fired power plant emissions. This gypsum is available for agricultural use as a soil amendment. Dexter Watts will explain several soil and crop benefits of synthetic gypsum additions to soil, including reductions in phosphorus runoff from fields. He will also review the low environmental risks reported from research studies.

Jeffrey Novak’s presentation will “explore the complex changes in soil health characteristics with biochar amendments.” He will also review if plants respond with better growth and yields. The presentation explores the long-term benefits of biochar additions to mineral soil to improve water and nutrient retention, rebuild soil organic carbon contents, and raise microbial diversity that may result in greater soil health.

Most farmers in Africa are “smallholder farmers,” working 5 acres or less. Although sustainable intensification agricultural technologies are now largely available in Africa, disseminating information to farmers is difficult. Regis Chikowo will discuss a project that evaluated using “interactive voice response” phone calls to farmers for educational purposes in rural Malawi. Chikowo’s talk explores the opportunities and pitfalls for employing these calls in agricultural technology dissemination.

The United States has sufficient land in cropland, grassland and forest to help mitigate climate change. G. Philip Robertson will explore the topic of negative-carbon farming and emissions in his talk. How much mitigation that various practices can be expected to deliver depends on balancing multiple environmental priorities and uncertainties. Robertson will present a rank order listing of mitigation magnitude by uncertainty that can inform both near-term policy and research priorities.

Heidi Waldrip will review strategies in manure management for environmental quality. Manure is a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon – all needed nutrients for good crop yields. There are new methods for pelletizing, separating liquid and solid materials, and even creating biochar from manure. Waldrip’s presentation reviews current information on manure characteristics, new processing technologies, and methods developed to maximize manure use while mitigating negative environmental impact.

Edge-of-field denitrification practices are some of the best performing and most effective practices for nutrient loss reduction in areas where subsurface drainage is common. Christopher Hay will address key issues and efforts to address these challenges to making edge-of-field denitrification practices feasible and more readily adopted by growers.

Daren Harmel will discuss “the evolution of databases, data collection, and data management related to nutrient management and water quality.” Daren will preview efforts to make meteorological, soil, and water data available freely to optimize production and support ecosystem sustainability.

Speakers include Dexter Watts, USDA-ARS; Jeffrey Novak, USDA-ARS; Regis Chikowo, University of Zimbabwe; G. Philip Robertson, Michigan State University; Heidi Waldrip, USDA-ARS; Christopher Hay, Iowa Soybean Association; and Daren Harmel, USDA-ARS.

For more information about the Embracing the Digital Environment 2019 meetingvisit are invited to attend the conference. Pre-registration by October 25, 2019 is required. For further information about “Cross Cutting Issues in Environmental Quality,” visit

To speak with one of the scientists, contact Susan V. Fisk, 608-273-8091, [email protected] to arrange an interview.

Meeting Link: Embracing the Digital Environment 2019 ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting