Murray State University students Hannah Robbins and Landon Gibbs placed first and second at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Southern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy in Dallas on Feb. 2-4.

Robbins, a senior studying agronomy, won first place in the undergraduate poster competition. She presented her research, “Soil Carbon, Nitrogen and Aggregate Stability Associated with Common Agroecosystems in Western Kentucky.” Winning recognition for her research is not new to Robbins. In 2013, she won awards for her research posters and oral presentations at the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, Murray State University Sigma Xi Poster Competition, and the Southern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy conference in Orlando, Fla.

Gibbs, a sophomore in the horticulture program, took second place in the undergraduate research poster competition. He presented his research, “Infiltration Rate and its Related Soil Properties in Various Land Management Systems of Western Kentucky.” This was Gibbs’ first scientific presentation.

There were 12 posters in the competition from Tarleton State University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Stephenville, Western Kentucky University, Mississippi Valley State University, Texas A&M University at Kingsville, Purdue University and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Murray State University.

The annual meeting of the Southern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy, held in conjunction with the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists, provides a venue for collaboration and networking among agronomy professionals and students in the Southern region and an opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students to present their research findings.

Dr. Iin Handayani, an associate professor in Hutson School of Agriculture, mentored Robbins and Gibbs as they conducted their research in the soil science laboratory. In their research, they utilized soil samples collected from various sites in western Kentucky, including the Murray State University farms.

Results from Robbins’ project show that various agroecosystems in western Kentucky have different effects on soil organic matter, nitrogen content and soil structure. Soil organic matter results for wooded areas was only slightly higher than that found for pasture and crop fields. The highest nitrogen content was observed in pasture and wooded areas. Crop fields had the lowest amount of nitrogen content. Wooded and pasture areas had the least sensitive to water erosion due to the strongest soil structure as indicated by the highest macro-aggregates. The results support the hypothesis that the least disruptive management system will have the highest soil fertility and more desirable soil strength toward erosion.

The results from Gibbs’ research indicated that organic farming system has a 63 percent higher infiltration rate than the woods, while the average value in no-till corn is similar to prairie. Conventional tillage system has the lowest infiltration rates (4-6 cm/hr). The study shows that soil organic matter and aggregation are the main factors controlling the dynamics of soil infiltration rates. The highest soil organic matter content is found in organic farming systems followed by the woods, no-till corn and prairie, and lastly, conventional tillage system. Organic farming system also provides the highest moisture content, followed by the woods, prairie and no-till corn and conventional tillage system. This study signifies the importance of maintaining soil organic matter and soil structure to reduce runoff and compaction in agricultural fields.

Handayani said of working with Robbins and Gibbs, “Conducting research with students is a crucial way to provide an environment for them to learn, to remember the basic concept, to be creative, as well as to find the answer of ‘why.’ Presenting the research in competition is also the key to victory over fear and obstacles.”

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