Project GROW: Demonstrating improved soil health and water quality on farms

Agronomy and Horticulture

Faculty Advisor
Andrea Basche
Contact Email
Potential UCARE Research Position?
Start Date
5/15/2020 but flexible
Paid or Volunteer
Paid by UCARE Funding
Hours Per Week
Up to 40
Acceptable Undergraduate Majors
All majors considered, especially CASNR, Biology, Chemistry, Physics

The city of York purchased 400 acres of farmland in the 2008 as part of a wellhead protection area project to ensure safer drinking water for the community. In the summer of 2017, the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District developed a project in cooperation with farmers with an ultimate goal of demonstrating improvements to soil health and drinking water quality called “Project GROW” – Growing Rotational crops On Wellfield. The active farmland included in the wellhead protection area utilizes practices such as no-till farming, cover crops, and a diversified crop rotation. A student working on this project will help to demonstrate how these practices improve soil health, and how a healthier soil might acts as a filtering system to improve drinking water quality.

 Last year, our research group initiated preliminary work at Project GROW in partnership with the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District. As a part of this work, we evaluated the soil property differences within fields that introduced soil health management practices and the neighboring fields were managed more conventionally. Specifically, we evaluated soil aggregation, bulk density and cover crop biomass. This year, we are planning to extend our work to evaluate a number of other soil health indicators including water infiltration, soil carbon and soil nitrogen. For the purpose of this project, we are looking for 1-2 students to conduct independent research on various soil health indicators that could improve drinking water quality. Student(s) will have the opportunity to learn more about soil biological, chemical and physical indicators of soil health through in-field and lab-based measurements.

Student(s) will develop an independent project. Field techniques in which student may be involved in include bulk density, porosity, cover crop biomass estimation, soil infiltration and drainage. The laboratory analyses will include aggregate stability, soil carbon and nitrogen analyses, organic matter content, and particulate organic matter. The field component of this project will be in York, Nebraska. Students must be willing to spend approximately 2-3 days in the field every week. Additionally, we are expecting students to read scientific literature related to their work. Our research group believes that learning needs to be holistic and students should understand scientific concepts by scientific reading, visiting the field, analyzing data and curiously questioning the “how’s” and “why’s” of their work.

 More information about Project GROW is available here:


•             Ability to work in the field for long hours in hot, humid conditions

•             Ability to perform manual labor (carrying soil samples across field)

•             An interest in the biological, chemical and ecological sciences as they relate to soil science and farming systems

•             Willingness to read scientific articles and learn new concepts

•             Ability to follow directions and work independently

•             Knowledge in working with MS-Excel will be an added advantage

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