Dr. Michael J. Mulvaney
Nature and Description of Extension Program
My extension program broadly addresses increased sustainability of row cropping systems in the Southeast. My goal as Cropping Systems Specialist centers on the education of stakeholders about improved nutrient management in cropping systems. The program is designed to identify and address knowledge gaps and provide evidence-based information to agents, growers, agricultural professionals, and policymakers to inform decisions related to crop management. Factors that affect nutrient management and cycling, such as irrigation scheduling, rotations, cover cropping and soil management, are an integral part of my program. Content is delivered via face-to-face meetings, websites, smart phone apps, EDIS publications, popular press articles, social media, and grower field days. These are designed to inform and update stakeholders on crop and soil management practices that optimize yield and economic return for crops suitable to the Southeast.
Crop fertility management in the Southeast is unique because generally sandy soils with low nutrient and water holding capacity coupled with intense rain events facilitate rapid nutrient mineralization and movement through soils below the rooting zone. This contributes to nutrient loading in water bodies and affects water quality. The problem is exacerbated by the increased nutrient demand of modern crop cultivars, which has contributed to increased fertilizer use in general. The need for improved nutrient management in the Southeast is critical but problematic in the sandy soils of the region. Indeed, the range of soils, from deep sands in the east to sandy loams in Lower Alabama, necessitates specific crop nutrient management programs related to the differing nutrient and water holding capacities of soils across the region. Indeed, soils in the region may have sufficient levels of nutrients but remain unavailable to crops during peak demand because of insufficient plant available water in the rooting zone, which can result in plant nutrient deficiencies, with concomitant consequences such as disease susceptibility, ultimately resulting in decreased nutrient use efficiency and yield. There is a need for integrated soil fertility management programs that include soil fertility, water management, and cultural practices to improve nutrient use efficiencies in crop production in order to reduce yield penalties and nutrient losses to the environment.
There are several tools and technologies in development or currently available that can assist target audiences with nutrient management decisions, including (but not limited to) PeanutFARM, N calculators, SmartIrrigation apps, traditional soil testing coupled with plant tissue analyses, enhanced efficiency fertilizers, and precision applications over zoned fields. My research program works to improve and validate many of these tools and technologies for southeastern row crop production; these are then demonstrated to stakeholders with the goal of increased adoption of those applications that improve nutrient management of cropping systems in the region.
My program utilizes an integrated approach to address this situation:
- Application of the “4R” concept: Right source, Right rate, Right time, & Right place for conditions specific to southeastern crop production.
- Adoption of cultural practices that improve nutrient management and nutrient cycling, such as improved soil moisture management, rotations, and precision agriculture applications.