NMSU researcher’s $742,000 soil health grant will mean healthier crops, food

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In an initiative to support research projects centered on leading the way to improve soil health across the United States, a researcher at New Mexico State University was selected to receive $742,170 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rajan Ghimire, assistant professor in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, was one of 10 recipients nationwide to be awarded on behalf of NIFA’s Soil Health program.

“It means a lot,” Ghimire said. “It reflects recognition of our work on soil health and soil water dynamics, the trust at NMSU, and the research team that we can deliver."

NIFA invested more than $7 million in total that will contribute to advancements in the scientific understanding of soil physical and biochemical processes. The funding Ghimire was awarded will support his project, “Establishing a Soil Health Framework for Water-Limited Regions.” The project’s focus is identifying soil health indicators and developing a framework for soil health assessment in arid and semi-arid regions.

“Soil health status varies with climate, soil type, environment and management practices. This project will develop a soil health assessment framework specific to our agroecosystems,” he said. “We will better understand the role of diverse approaches, including cover cropping, crop rotation intensification and compost application, to improve soil health while minimizing environmental impacts."

Ghimire’s research goal is to understand soil-plant-environment interactions for improving efficiency, profitability and soil environmental quality of dryland and limited-irrigation cropping systems. Recently, the focus of his work has been on soil health assessment and management, soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and water management.

“Funded projects from USDA NIFA like this are valuable because we can answer some fundamental questions on soil health management in arid and semi-arid regions facing challenges due to soil degradation, water scarcity and high climatic variability,” he said.

The research team working with Ghimire includes Sangu Angadi, professor of crop physiology in the College of ACES, and other collaborators from Colorado State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s two agricultural research service centers.

The project will have research plots located in eastern New Mexico and eastern Colorado.