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The Dirt, February 2020

Message from Department Head

Welcome to the first issue of “The Dirt,” a new electronic newsletter that will highlight the great things that students, staff, faculty and alumni in the Department of Soil and Water Systems are doing. We are excited to have this new avenue to share our initiatives and achievements with everyone.

Since the department was founded in July 2017, we have made much progress including the addition of seven new faculty in the areas of precision agriculture, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, soil health and food systems. Our graduate program is growing and producing graduates ready to work on critical natural resource issues such as soil health and conservation. We have added a new undergraduate major in water science and management, in recognition of the growing importance of ensuring adequate supplies of clean water. Research expenditures have steadily increased since 2017 and our research and extension faculty are engaged in critically important projects including purification and recycling of agricultural water, impacts of antibiotics on soil organisms, management of soil health, and the use of satellite data to calculate crop evapotranspiration rates. Ultimately this work will translate to improved management and conservation of soil and water — two of our most important natural resources. While it is impossible to include all of the activities going on in the department in a single newsletter, “The Dirt” will highlight new projects, events and findings overtime, and we hope that you enjoy reading it."

Jodi Johnson-Maynard


Jodi Johnson-Maynard
Department Head

Soil Stewards Success

The Soil Stewards Farm is now put to bed, so to speak, but we had a great 2019 season. The season was a huge success in part because one full-time and one quarter-time student were paid to work at the Soil Stewards Farm all summer. The consistent labor throughout the summer set the farm up for a successful fall season and harvest.

The Soil Stewards were able to sell produce on the University of Idaho Moscow campus weekly through the end of October. In addition to the weekly market, the Soil Stewards sold over 720 pounds of produce to Vandals Dining from mid-September thru mid-October. Currently, the Soil Stewards are growing microgreens that will be sold to the HUB and Vandals Dining throughout the winter.

Five work-study students helped manage the farm, an ISEM course created projects based on the real-world needs of the Soil Stewards Farm and a plant pathology course used the space as a living lab. The farm partnered with the U of I Sustainability Center for two successful volunteer events, Get Dirty, each with over 20 student and community participants.

Additionally, the Soil Stewards Farm had their annual Fall Fest on Oct. 19. Despite the heavy rain, several families came out to pick pumpkins, take photos and learn more about the farm. Looking ahead to the 2020 growing season we plan to upgrade the irrigation system at the farm to include soil moisture monitoring systems and crop specific water delivery.

: Students from a U of I ISEM class help with harvest at the Soil Stewards Farm
Students from a U of I ISEM class help with harvest at the Soil Stewards Farm.

Faculty and Student Success

Robert MahlerProfessor Bob Mahler has been named to the editorial board for the International Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning. This international journal has been published by the WIT Press in the United Kingdom for 15 years. Mahler has published seven papers in this journal and has attended many international conferences sponsored by the WIT Press.

Mahler also represents the University of Idaho on the state’s groundwater education committee. This committee consists of representatives from the public sector, nonprofit organizations and industry, with the purpose of providing outreach about groundwater issues to Idaho’s public. Currently, priority issues include well protection, contaminants in aquafers and making sure all water educational organizations provide high quality materials to the public. Mahler has served on this committee since the late 1980s.

Howard NeiblingThe Anheuser-Busch Foundation announced a gift of $50,000 to support ongoing research and promotion of Low Elevation Spray Application (LESA) pivots in the barley rotation. This technology, which moves sprinkler irrigation closer to the ground, can save growers up to 20 percent on water and energy. This gift will support the efforts of SWS associate professor and UI Extension Specialist Howard Neibling who leads University of Idaho efforts in irrigation and LESA technology.

Zach van OrsdelZach van Orsdel, a Ph.D. student in soil and land resources, was accepted into the inaugural Scientists Engaging and Educating Decision-makers (SEED) Ambassador program offered through the Soil Science Society of America.

Michael StricklandJane LucasSWS Assistant Professor Michael Strickland and Postdoctoral Associate Jane Lucas co-authored a paper titled “Prolonged exposure to manure from livestock-administered antibiotics decreases ecosystem carbon-use efficiency and alters nitrogen cycling” in Ecology Letters.

Daniel StrawnProfessor Dan Strawn is part of the U of I Clean Water Machine that tested water in the North Alkali Drain near Parma to capture sediment and nutrients flowing toward the Snake River as a test of biological treatment possibilities to improve water quality.

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Courtney Cosdon, a master’s student studying soil and land resources
Courtney Cosdon, a master’s student studying soil and land resources, is working on a research project at the U of I Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center comparing soil health tests and creating fertilizer recommendations in an attempt to calibrate the tests in organic systems. The research team is collaborating with three organic farms in northern Idaho growing beets and carrots, comparing the yield and quality to add to the soil health resources for organic farmers.
Bronte Soñé, a master’s student studying soil and land resources
Bronte Soñé, a master’s student studying soil and land resources, is working with Michael Strickland on a research project focused on diverse cover crop mixtures and their effect on soil carbon stores. The team is using a carbon isotope to track how carbon is assimilated by plants and transferred to other areas of the plant and soil profile. The purpose of this work is to gain information on the benefits of cover crops to the Palouse region to provide growers with an alternative to fallow.


University of Idaho

Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Rm 242
606 S Rayburn St

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2340
Moscow, ID 83844-2340

Phone: 208-885-0111