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Ongoing Grant: Odum School receives grant to increase soil nutrition suitable for organic farming

Jul. 22, 2008

Writer: Anisa S. Jimenez, anisaj@uga.edu

Contact: Carl Jordan, cfjordan@uga.edu

A $190,000 grant from Southern Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education will help the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology study the use of shrubby perennial legumes such as false indigo in making soil more suitable for organic farming.

"This is important because Georgia red clay is highly depleted in all nutrients and organic matter due to 150 years of cotton farming," said Carl F. Jordan, senior research scientist at the Odum School of Ecology. "Organic farming relies on soil organic matter instead of chemical fertilizers as a source of nutrients for crops."

For several years, the Agroecology Lab at UGA has been experimenting with perennial legumes and their potential use as a source of organic matter. The legumes are planted in hedgerows approximately 13 feet apart, and the crops are planted in the resulting "alley" between the hedges. This alley cropping system may be especially beneficial in restoring degraded fields by establishing a nutrient primer.

"Once the hedges are established...(they) supply nutrients and organic matter to the soil," according to Jordan. "Of the several perennial legumes that we have investigated, Amorpha fructicosa (false indigo) has proven preferable."

The funding, which is administered through UGA, will enable the Odum School to work toward its main objectives in the areas of research, outreach and education. Plans to supplement the legume research include conducting workshops, establishing internships and expanding the Agroecology Lab's educational program, which includes a course in organic agriculture during the university's May term.

"Through the web site and institutional support proposed, these networks linking growers, researchers and their stakeholders will last beyond the timeline of this proposal," Jordan said. "Through our courses and internships, we will have introduced a generation of students into a philosophy of ecologically sustainable agriculture."

The project will primarily take place on the 100-acre Spring Valley Farm, six miles from UGA. In 2002, the Agroecology Lab formed a partnership with an experienced organic farmer and his associates to manage production on 3.5 acres of the farm.

"Our major focus (to date) has been to improve the efficiency of organic farming, so that prices can be more competitive," Jordan said. "We have been experimenting with perennial shrubby legumes that are able to produce nitrogen and soil organic matter right where they are needed, thereby avoiding the logistic problems of conventional composing."

The Agroecology Lab plans to begin a three-year study this summer. This is being done through a partnership with Georgia Organics, who will perform evaluations on the project.

"This is an important step toward establishing organic agriculture at UGA as a more environmentally conscious method of agriculture," Jordan said.

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