Feb 18, 2022
New Jersey soil health plans include blueberries, cranberries

Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) have a long history of research and education in the field of soil science including ground-breaking discoveries such as streptomycin which saved millions of lives. 

In the past 20-30 years, the concept of assessing overall soil quality has developed within the soil science community into the broader concept of “soil health.” With abundant research and practitioner experience to support this area, NJAES directors Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, Brian Schilling and Wendie Cohick announced the launch of the NJAES Soil Health Initiative.

The goal of this initiative is to promote soil health research, education and outreach that will lead to the restoration of New Jersey’s soil resources and development of a sustainable system to protect them for future generations. 

The Soil Health Initiative is supported by the NJAES Vision 2025 initiative with supplemental funding from the state. Several activities are already underway: 

New Jersey’s state soil, Downer, augered from a blueberry field in Atlantic County.

A survey is being conducted to assess available expertise at Rutgers SEBS/NJAES that can contribute to a wide range of soil health activities such as production gains with reduced inputs (fertilizer, pesticides), food/forage nutritional benefits, waste management, economics of practices and ecosystem services and climate change mitigation. 

Several projects have been awarded seed funding to advance soil health projects:  

  • Soil Health Symposia are being planned to assemble faculty and staff with interests in soil-related problems. The overall goals are coordination of existing expertise/projects, supporting collaborations and identifying needs. (Project lead: Rutgers Soil Testing Lab director Stephanie Murphy) 
  • Detailed mapping and soil instrumentation at the Rutgers NJAES P.E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension in Chatsworth, New Jersey, will allow preparation of a land use plan and evaluation of relationships between soil conditions and plant health within blueberry and cranberry production systems. (Principal investigator: extension specialist in plant pathology and Marucci Center director, Peter Oudemans) 
  • Researching the adaptation of a grassy “weed” and its potential use as a cover crop for blueberries to protect and enhance soil. (Principal investigator: extension specialist in weed science, Thierry Besançon) 
  • Development of long-term soil observatories on selected NJAES farms will allow documentation and aid research of climate-induced effects on soil properties. (Principal investiga
    Well-structured soil from conservation grassland in the piedmont region of New Jersey (Duke Farms, Hillsborough).

    tor: professor of soil science, SEBS Department of Environmental Sciences, Daniel Gimenez) 

Stephanie Murphy is leading the development of the Soil Health Initiative, given her extensive knowledge of soil science and health, and involvement in many state-level efforts to address soil health issues. Murphy is coordinating a March 15 internal Soil Health Symposium, that will engage Rutgers faculty and staff conducting research, outreach, or demonstrations in soil health. 

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