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Science preview: October 2012 meetings of agronomy, crop, and soil science societies

How are manufactured nanoparticles affecting the world's terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems? What are the linkages between organic farming, healthy soils, and healthy foods? Can "grey" wastewater be safely used to irrigate farmland and replenish groundwater supplies? What strategies are underway around the world to sustain food security in the face of climate change?

These are just a few of the questions that will be discussed at International Annual Meetings of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The meetings will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio on Oct. 21-24, 2012.

More than 3,000 research presentations will be given at the meetings, and more than 4,000 scientists, ag professionals, educators, and students from around the globe are expected to attend. Below are highlighted just a few of the symposia and talks; the full scientific program can be viewed here:

Journalists, freelance writers, and public information officers are also invited to attend, and can receive complimentary registration and use of the press room. To learn about eligibility, go to: For more information and to receive press credentials for the meetings, contact Madeline Fisher,, 608-268-3973.

Meeting highlights

Beneficial Reuse of Wastes and Environmental Implications of Waste Recycling. As the world population continues to rise, so, too, does production of agricultural, industrial, and municipal wastes. Consensus is building that recycling should be a key aspect of waste management; for example, wastewater can be used for irrigation, biosolids applied to land can improve soil quality, and recycled materials can be used to construct roads and bridges. However, the fate of the pollutants that are potentially contained in wastes must also be considered, so as to prevent contamination of water and soil resources. This session will examine the beneficial reuse of wastes; the chemical forms that pollutants take within waste; and the interactions between waste, soil, and water during the recycling process. Read more:

Extreme Events: Consequences for Biogeochemical Cycling and Feedbacks to the Climate System. Climate extremes, such as severe drought, heat waves, and periods of heavy rainfall, have profound consequences for ecological systems and human welfare; in fact, such events likely have larger impacts than the more gradual climate changes experienced by the planet historically. Because global climate change is expected to increase both the frequency and intensity of climate extremes, there's an urgent need to understand their effects on carbon and nutrient cycling, as well as any feedbacks to the climate systems that may result from them. This symposium will explore the frontiers of our understanding of extreme events and their effects, and the session will conclude with a panel discussion. Read more:

Fertilizing for Crop Qualities that Improve Human Health. The World Health Organization defines human health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Agriculture already produces foods that nourish human health, but sustainable fertilizer use must increasingly focus on the improvement of that health-sustaining role, towards a goal of healthy and productive lives for all in the context of a burgeoning world population. This symposium will focus on several of the many linkages between human health and the use of fertilizer, while also considering the desirable principles of profitability and sustainable nutrient use. Read more:

How is the Age of Humans Transforming Soil Science? Pedology is the sub-discipline of soil science that most closely deals with soil as a natural entity. But as the influence of humans on our planet has mounted, people and their activities have also become critical factors in soil formation, along with "natural" soil-forming factors such as climate, soil organisms, and time. In fact, the human effects on soils are nearly everywhere today and the question must be asked: Are there truly any natural soils, or have virtually all soils been transformed into human-natural systems? In this symposium, soil scientists will address how the Anthropocenethe Age of Humansis reshaping pedology and soil science. Read more:

Modeling the Economics of Fertilizer Applications. Fertilizer recommendations are being called upon to meet many objectives today, including increased efficiency and production, and lower environmental losses. However, farmersthe ones who make the final fertilization decisionsare most concerned about profitability. This symposium will examine various methods for incorporating economic variables into fertilizer recommendations. Approaches range from short-term considerations for one nutrient to long-term optimizations that consider multiple factors simultaneously. Presentations will span this range of complexity to assess how far science has come and where it must go to improve farmers' economic decision-making. Read more:

Natural and Synthetic Nanoparticles in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems. Nanoparticles are found in hundreds of commercial products today, and scientists now know they're making their way into aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as well. What's not known is how much nanomaterial is entering the environment, the fate of these materials once they get there, or the effects nanoparticles could be having on organisms. In this symposium, scientists will present some of the latest research findings on the fate, transport, and impacts of nanoparticles in the environment. Read more:

Public-Private Collaboration: Case Studies of What Works in Extension, Education, and Research. Public and private sector organizations in agronomy are finding it increasingly fruitful to collaborate with one another. Universities, for example, look to industry money to support research and extension programs in the face dwindling public funding. Meanwhile ag businesses need universities to provide a steady stream of qualified graduates for company positions. But public-private partnerships aren't always easy to navigate. This symposium will explore the opportunities, challenges, pitfalls, and benefits that participants and programs encounter when the public and private sectors work together. Read more:

Quantifying Linkages among Soil Health, Organic Farming and Food. Organic farmers use organic amendments, diverse crop rotations, and cover crops to promote soil fertility and enhance soil health. Meanwhile, consumers of organic produce are very interested in potential health benefits of organic food. A connection between healthy soil and healthy food seems reasonable to assume, and recent evidence suggests that organically grown fruit and vegetables may contain higher levels of health-promoting phytochemicals than do conventionally grown foods. Nevertheless, defining the linkages between organic farming, healthy soil, and healthy food remains a challenging area of research that requires active collaboration across traditional disciplinary boundaries. In this symposium, scientists from diverse fields will present results from their efforts to identify farm practices that maximize the health benefits of high-quality, organic produce. Read more:

Sustaining Global Food Security in a Changing Climate. Present day climate variability (e.g., droughts and floods), as well as the prospect for significant longer-term climate changes, poses substantial threats to food security at global, regional, and local scales. The nature of these threats and the time horizon for investing in adapting to climate change will vary considerably by region and with the diverse characteristics of different farming systems. In this session, scientists from international crops research centers, such as ICRISAT and CIMMYT, will develop regional contexts for the challenges ahead and explain the resilience strategies that are underway around the world to address climate variability and progressive climate change. Read more:

Weed ID: Can You Do It? A Robot Can? It won't be long before farmers have a plant identification monitor sitting next to the yield, soil moisture, and nutrient monitors in their tractor cabs. And in natural areas, outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists, and resource managers will soon be able to identify invasive and other important plant species with ID technology that also includes communication and environmental monitoring devices. What's ushering in this exciting future is a boom in sensor and automation technologies for real-time plant identification in the field, as well as chemical application systems for real-time weed control on farms. This symposium will feature engineers and biologists who are working at the cutting edge of this rapidly developing field. Read more:


Contact: Madeline Fisher
American Society of Agronomy

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