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Amy LarsenAlcalde, NM

Amy Larsen

East Rio Arriba Soil and Water Conservation District

Alcalde, New Mexico

Mature compost with earthworm and earthworm cocoons. (Photo credit: Adrienne Rosenberg)

Amy Larsen is a research scientist with New Mexico State University (NMSU) Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, N.M., which lies in the East Rio Arriba Soil and Water Conservation District. Her passion and interests concern the fascinating and unseen world of the soil microbiome. She has produced compost, vermicompost and compost tea for private commercial firms and used direct microscopy to assess the biological component of these products. She now brings her experience to bear in a research capacity, broadening her understanding of the complex relationships between microbes, plants and farm management.

The team seeks to identify effective soil health management practices that might benefit farmers in northern New Mexico. They promote four principles of soil health: disturb the soil as little as possible, increase diversity in the system (plant, animal and microbe), maintain living roots in the ground, and keep soils covered with vegetation or mulch. Larsen explains that while these principles are fairly simple, successful management strategies to support them can be quite nuanced; site-specific; and dependent on scale, farm resources and farm systems. Examples of management strategies include growing cover crops, minimizing tillage, and incorporating microbially-diverse compost in order to improve soil function and health.

Plot layout for field trials showing emerging cover crop & till vs no‐till plots. (Photo credit: Amy Larsen)

New Mexico’s arid climate; alkaline, low fertility soil; and small-scale farms present both unique challenges and opportunities to approaching and implementing soil health management strategies. As a result, the need for research and data on what works on a local scale is crucial to improving the productivity and fertility of the soil.

At the Science Center, Larsen and the team are seeking funds to embark on a four-to-six year agricultural research trial in which they will compare till versus no-till methods, fertilizer treatments (organic, chemical and microbially-diverse, Johnson-Su bioreactor compost), cover crop mixes and cover crop termination strategies. They will assess the health of the soil under these combinations of plot treatments; specifically looking at soil microbiome parameters, organic matter, aggregation and basic soil chemistry. Additionally, they will assess nutrient content in marketable crops, calculate crop yield, and produce an economic analysis of different treatment regimes. In the end, Larsen hopes to provide farmers with some practical, effective and affordable options to improve their soil fertility, crop vitality and farm viability.

To learn more about the research Larsen and the team are conducting, please visit the NMSU Soil Health webpage.

Updated March 2020.

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