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Department of Agronomy

Soil & Environmental Science

Soils Research at K-State is among the top programs in the country. More than half the Soils faculty have achieved the status of Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). Faculty members, Dr. Charles W. Rice and Dr. Gary Pierzynski have served as president of SSSA.

Ongoing research takes advantage of the latest technology, including everything from nanoparticles to refractive spectrometry. Kansas has a wide range of soils types, offering numerous opportunities and challenges for the research scientists.

The goals of the soils program are to provide leadership in environmental issues such as carbon sequestration and trace metal remediation; water use efficiency; soil fertility and water quality; and other issues of state, national, and international importance.

Pedology & Mineralogy

Dr. Ganga Hettiarachchi | Dr. Colby Moorberg | Dr. DeAnn Presley | Dr. Michel Ransom

The Pedology and Mineralogy Research Project involves the study of the basic factors and interactions involved in the formation and weathering of soils. Our work emphases studying and characterizing the physical and chemical properties of soils found throughout Kansas. The research team also studies the environmental mineralogy of nutrient and trace elements. Much of our work is done in cooperation with colleagues at other universities throughout the U.S. and internationally. We are also a key cooperator with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in the National Cooperative Soil Survey.

Research programs include:

  • Clay mineral weathering
  • Development and uses of soil survey geographic databases
  • Dynamic soil properties, both directly and indirectly affected by humans
  • Effects of irrigation and other management factors on the genesis and morphology of soils
  • Environmental applications of soil mineralogy
  • Genesis and micromorphology of soils
  • Speciation of secondary minerals and related solid phases for understanding environmental fate of elements
  • The relationship of environmental factors and soil physical properties in soil quality
  • Use of satellite imagery and geographic information systems for soil survey
  • Utilization of soils as building materials and for the treatment of wastewater

Soil Characterization Laboratory:

  • The Kansas State University Soil Characterization Laboratory provides physical, chemical, and mineralogical analyses of soils including particle size analysis, total carbon content, cation exchange capacity measurements, soil salinity analysis, and mineralogy of clays
  • For additional information and a price list of analyses contact Mickey Ransom

Precision Agriculture

Dr. Antonio Asebo | Dr. Kraig Roozeboom

Research on Precision Agriculture is intended to:

  • Develop an understanding of the component interface requirements and interactions within a precision agriculture system, and to document ways to make them work in concert without introducing undue complexity
  • Explore and enhance ways to enhance agricultural efficiency through the use of computerized field mapping and variable rate application technology

The goals of this research include:

  • Develop more accurate methods to document farming practices to demonstrate compliance with various government programs and regulations
  • Expand the capability of researchers to conduct replicated, commercial-scale, on-farm research in precision agriculture
  • Help producers implement this technology and successfully apply the results to improve efficiency

Soil & Environmental Chemistry

Dr. Ganga Hettiarachchi

The Hettiarachchi Lab

The Soil and Environmental Chemistry research program involves laboratory and field experiments on agricultural soils, contaminated urban soils, and mine-impacted soils/geomaterials in order to understand biogeochemical transformation of nutrient and potentially toxic elements and their role in controlling soil-plant transfer, mobility, and attenuation processes.

The goal of the program is to enhance soil quality, and to better understand the mechanisms and interactions involved in soil chemical reactions.

Primary focus areas presently include:

  • Determining reaction products of different P fertilizer sources in soils to understand their relationship to potential availability and plant uptake. The objective is to aid in the design of better and more efficient P fertilizers and P management practices
  • Evaluating the impacts of contaminants on food safety from urban gardens and other types of local farming activities on brownfield sites
  • “In situ” soil remediation involving the formation of stable solid phases, chemisorption, and phytostabilization to reduce soil-plant transfer of potentially toxic elements and/or reduce transportation of contaminated soils by air and water
  • Understanding complex redox transformations of potentially toxic trace elements and interactions between molecular level and macro-scale biotic and abiotic processes on the health of our soil/geo environments and water bodies

Soil Carbon Sequestration

Soil Fertility

Dr. Stewart Duncan | Dr. Nathan NelsonDr. Dorivar Ruiz Diaz | Dr. Alan Schlegel | Dr. Daniel Sweeney | Dr. Lucas Haag | Dr. Augustine Obour

Soil fertility research within the Agronomy Department is wide-ranging. More than 50 active research projects are ongoing in any given year, at locations throughout the state and on many different soil types.

In general, there are four basic focus areas of most soil fertility research projects, with many projects involving two or more of these focus areas:

  • Agricultural production (crops and forages) and nutrient use efficiency
  • Environmental quality
  • Nutrient management, including manure and by products
  • Product evaluation

In addition to the applied and basic research conducted in the field, greenhouse, and laboratory, the Agronomy Department also operates a full-line Soil Testing Laboratory that analyzes soil and plant tissue samples for producers in Kansas and neighboring states. Part of the research mission for the soil fertility faculty is to constantly monitor and update the calibration of soil test and tissue test data with crop production.

Soil Microbiology

Dr. Charles Rice

The objective of the soil microbiology research program in Agronomy is to study ways to improve soil quality and understand the biological and geochemical processes and interactions within different soil types and different environments.

The soil microbiology team conducts research on:

  • Carbon and nitrogen analysis in soils
  • Carbon and nitrogen mineralization
  • Factors affecting soil fungi and soil bacteria populations
  • Mycorrhizae population dynamics
  • Phospholipid fatty acids and neutral lipid fatty acids in soil organic matter
  • Stable isotope 13C and 15N analysis

The program is led by Dr. Chuck Rice, university distinguished professor and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Rice's research has been supported by more than $15 million in grants from the USDA, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and others. He has advised more than 30 graduate students and has more than 100 publications.

Soil Physics

Dr. Gerard Kluitenberg | Dr. Andres Patrignani

The Soil Physics research program involves the study of the physical parameters of soil and interactions with chemical, biological, and environmental factors. Research programs are investigating aspects of soil physical structure, water movement, and the relationship of soil properties to plant growth.

The goals of this research include:

  • Develop better methodologies for measuring soil physical properties
  • Improve soil physical properties

Soil Health

Dr. Ganga Hettiarachchi | Dr. M. B. Kirkham | Dr. Augustine Obour | Dr. DeAnn Presley | Dr. Charles Rice | Dr. Alan Schlegel | Dr. Peter Tomlinson

Soil quality is a multi-faceted area of study in the Department of Agronomy. There are chemical, physical, and biological/carbon-based components of soil quality, and active research programs in all three areas.

  • Chemical factors that affect plant growth
  • Interaction between soil chemistry and microbial communities
  • Remediation of contaminated soils
  • Soil aggregate formation and stability
  • Soil water infiltration capability
Biological & Organic
  • Effect of tillage, nutrients, and cropping systems on soil microbial populations
  • Soil carbon sequestration

Water Management

Dr. Rob Aiken | Dr. Lucas Haag | Dr. M. B. Kirkham | Dr. Andres Patrignani | Dr. DeAnn Presley | Dr. Alan Schlegel

Conserving water and enhancing water use efficiency are critical issues for agriculture, both in Kansas and the U.S. In the Central Plains, the future availability of water is a major concern, affecting both irrigated crop production and drinking water supplies. In recent years, drawdown or depletion of the High Plains/Ogallala aquifer -- which spans 225,000 square miles through portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico – has greatly surpassed the rate of natural recharge.

The goal of the Water Management research team is to find ways to enhance water use efficiency at all levels within crop production, and protect future water supplies. For example, the team has been involved in several projects to reduce water usage including irrigation management/ scheduling and subsurface drip irrigation.

Water Quality

Dr. Dan Devlin | Dr. Nathan Nelson | Dr. Peter Tomlinson

Protecting water quality is among the most important research tasks in Agronomy. Water plays a crucial role in the well-being of all, and the quality of that water determines whether is can be used for drinking, recreation, and other uses.

In Kansas, the quality of surface water is sometimes impaired by sediments, fecal coliform bacteria, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and herbicides. Groundwater is threatened by nitrogen and salts. These pollutants come from a variety of sources, including agricultural operations. The Department of Agronomy has several active research programs to address these important concerns, examining fertilizer and herbicide management practices, vegetative filter strips, riparian buffer strips, residue management systems, and more.

Research in Water Quality focuses on:

  • Causes and control of surface water eutrophication
  • Effects of tillage practices and cropping systems on water quality
  • Management of manure runoff
  • Management of phosphorus loss in runoff
  • Phosphorus dynamics in soil and water
  • Prioritization of Best Management Practices within watersheds

Research is often focused on solving problems at the watershed scale. Research is communicated directly to landowners and operators in part through a system of watershed specialists and grassroots watershed management organizations.