The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is collaborating with the Soil Health Institute to highlight the impact of soil health on plant, animal and human health at the 2018 Ag Biotech Summit.

“It all starts with the soil,” said Scott Johnson, the Biotech Center’s vice president of agriculture sector development.

The biennial event, held over two half days at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill February 20 and 21, will examine emerging trends and technologies fostering and promoting soil health.

Johnson said, “This one and the last one (in 2016) focused on science that’s very topical and opportunities that come out of that science. But this one is a little bit different. It has more of a sustainability and good practice intent, especially the first afternoon.”

Though events both days will appeal to a wide range of participants, the first session beginning Tuesday, Feb. 20 at noon will include “a lot of science,” Johnson said. “We’re calling it ‘Soil health: the intersection of biological and physical science.’”

One panel Tuesday afternoon will look at good soil science and its impact on good animal and human health. “Healthy soils result in good health for people and animals, not just plants,” Johnson said. It affects grazing animals consuming the plants grown in the soil and goes up the food chain to affect human health.

Understanding soil and things produced from it

The Wednesday session will examine the commercial possibilities of a better understanding of soil and things that can be produced from that soil. Those, Johnson pointed out, include companies that are:

  • Developing synthetic chemicals that stimulate plants to attract bacteria or fungi that help them attract and use nutrients.
  • Adding fermented biological products to the fauna in the soil to improve its health.
  • Adjusting the relationship of pathogens and fungi in the soil to make it more productive.

The underlying idea behind these technologies is to remediate the soil damaged by poor farming practices, to make it more sustainable. “As we gain an understanding of the value and ecology of the soil, we get those sorts of products,” Johnson said.

Presentations by other firms will look at using very sophisticated tools and data analysis to determine the health of soil. A panel will discuss the benefits of understanding good soil health.

Jason Weller, senior director of sustainability at Land O’Lakes, will give the opening keynote lunch presentation.

Bill Buckner, president and CEO of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, which founded the Soil Health Institute, will proved a summation and challenge to close the Summit.

Among other speakers confirmed for the event are:

  • Ann Bartuska, Ph.D., vice president, land, water, nature, Resources for the Future. Bartuska was previously a chief scientist with the USDA.
  • Eric Brevik, Ph.D., chair, department of natural sciences and professor in the department of agriculture and technical studies at Dickinson State University. Brevik’s research program focuses mainly on soil morphology and genesis. He conducts research in pathogenesis, soil survey, the use of electromagnetic induction in soils applications, and carbon sequestration.
  • Nicholas (Nick) Goeser, director, Soil Health Partnership and soil health and sustainability, National Corn Growers Association. He is working on the construction of a demonstration farm network across Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. The goal is to connect soil health with on-farm management, crop productivity, profitability and environmental responses through data collection, analysis and communications.
  • Sanjun Gu, Ph.D., extension specialist in horticulture, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Gu’s research goal is to increase on-farm efficiency and profitability while maintaining environmental sustainability for the target audience- small, limited-resource farmers in N.C.
  • Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., president and CEO, Soil Health Institute. Honeycutt leads the Institute’s programs to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils.

Other confirmed speakers include: Russell Hedrick, owner, JRH Grain Farms, Hickory, NC; Bruce Knight, principal and founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions; Matt Koci, Ph.D., associate professor of poultry science, NC State University; Elizabeth Stulberg, Ph.D., science policy manager, DC-based Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies; Steve Warshawer, owner, New Mexico-based Mesa Top Farm and founder of Beneficial Farms; Mulumebet Millie) Worku, Ph.D., professor, Department of Animal Sciences, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, NCA&T.

Johnson said the Triangle-based Soil Health Institute, a non-profit funded by private money, as the lead sponsor of the Summit, was integral in developing the two-day program. The Institute funds academic research nationally to develop best practices in soil health.

copyright 2018 North Carolina Biotechnology Center