• Thu. Oct 5th, 2023

University lab works to improve soil health – Chico Enterprise-Record


Jun 1, 2023
University lab works to improve soil health – Chico Enterprise-Record

Kimberly Holguin, left, and Johanna Jimenez, center, observe as Chico State agriculture Professor Garrett Liles works with soil samples Monday, February 20, 2023 in the Regenerative Agriculture Demonstration Lab in Chico, California. (Jason Halley/Chico State)

CHICO — It’s true: our overall health as inhabitants of Earth depends on getting involved with what’s right under our feet.

Soil, and its ability to efficiently grow crops for the food we eat, is critically important to the future of human civilization. That’s no exaggeration. If nutrients get out of whack in the growing medium, it means less food in the long run — and people will go hungry as the population increases.

Chico State student Drew Gilberti works with soil samples in the Regenerative Agriculture Demonstration Lab at the University Farm in Chico, California on Monday, February 20, 2023. (Jason Halley, Chico State/Contributed)

Garrett Liles, a professor in the Agriculture Department at Chico State, may have established part of the solution. Liles established the Regenerative Agriculture Demonstration Lab at the university in 2017; he described it Wednesday as “a service to agriculture and the community.”

The lab — actually in multiple locations — is where students and lab technicians assess soil health and food nutrient density using some common tools and equipment. It uses a repurposed greenhouse at the Chico State University Farm, off Hegan Lane south of Chico, and some research rooms in Plumas Hall on campus.

“We want to create something that’s easy to reproduce and copy,” Liles explained. “Everything we’ve purchased is from hardware and restaurant supply stores. We want to show that we’ve used equipment that is inexpensive and widely available.

Diana Kemp, foreground, works in the Regenerative Agriculture Demonstration Lab on the Chico State University Farm in Chico, California on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.(Jason Halley/Chico State)

“Farmers, urban growers, and anyone else interested in soil health can do this.”

Most of the students who work in the lab have majors related to agriculture, Liles said, but any student can perform work there.

“We’ve had a chemistry student and some other folks, but it’s open to any students from campus. We have internships and paid positions as well,” he said.

Obviously, establishing any kind of lab comes at a cost. Liles said he picked up funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, then later got some other, smaller grants and funds from the Center for Regenerative Agriculture.

“This helped pay for our work on soil health. It was perfectly suited funding for starting what we have now,” Liles said. “There was also funding from some individual research projects. Ultimately the college (of Agriculture) was very helpful, because we have some research spaces on campus which the college provides. The college has been tremendously helpful.”

Then, the lab charges people who benefit from its services.

“We have researchers or citizens who want their samples analyzed. Then we help them make sense of what those numbers mean,” Liles said. “We help those who are interested in soil health to change management, and to help people understand where they are, then track changes over time.”

What does Liles hope for the future of the lab? Mainly, he said he wants to see people replicate its abilities.

“Our lab is there to help people appreciate the changes they’re making to the soil, and the benefits (the changes) provide,” he said. “It’s not easily understood. We’re making the transition to ag with less disturbance, ag with cover crops and additional amendments.

“Really, in the big picture, we’re serving two main purposes — helping people understand their land and soil, and helping students prepare for the workplace with a lot of experience in understanding soils.”

Leave a Reply