Florence, S.C.—Rodale Institute has partnered with Clemson University researchers to study organic agriculture soil challenges keeping South Carolina farmers from participating in the organic industry, according to a press release from Clemson.

Rongzhong Ye, an Assistant Professor at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center (REC), has received a $500,000 grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for a 3-year study on improving soils to support organic vegetable production. “Increasing organic inputs, such as manure and compost and cover crops, as well as using conservation tillage, are considered some of the best management strategies to address such soil health issues,” Ye said in the press release. “We want to determine if this diversity in organic inputs can be managed to improve soil health and the productivity of organic vegetables in southeastern soils. We also want to determine if tillage affects these outcomes.”

Ye and his team will work to better understand how organic inputs and tillage affect biogeochemical processes essential for soil health, the press release explains. They will study soil microbial communities, carbon dynamics, nutrient processes, and changes in soil health, as well as yields and nutritional quality of organic vegetables.

“The goal is to advance our knowledge of soil biogeochemical processes that are important to the productivity, profitability and sustainability of organic vegetables,” Ye said. “We want to provide research-based information to regional producers to improve ecosystem services and environmental stewardship of their farms.”

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Where Rodale comes in: the same research will be conducted simultaneously at the Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, to account for variations in climate and soil conditions.

The farms involved will plant tomatoes in April, followed by cucumbers, to be managed according to the 2020 Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook. The cucumbers will be followed up with a winter cover crops.