New Texas A&M AgriLife Research soil scientist hired at Overton Center

Dr. Anil Somenahally plans to address soil fertility and crop management in East Texas

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Dr. Anil Somenahally, Texas A&M AgriLife Research soil scientist. (Texas A&M Agrilife Research photo by Robert Burns)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

OVERTON – Dr. Anil Somenahally, newly hired Texas A&M AgriLife Research soil scientist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, believes good land stewardship and profitable production agriculture go hand in hand.

Somenahally received his bachelor’s of science in agriculture from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, India, in 2002, his master’s in soil science from Tarleton State University, Stephenville, in 2006, and his doctorate in soil science and soil microbiology from Texas A&M University, College Station, in 2010.

Somenahally has done research with heavy metals remediation, phosphorus runoff from dairy pasture soils and soil microbiology. He said his future research interests are mainly about using innovative and low-cost management approaches to build soil carbon and manage soil acidity. He hopes to apply his research findings to improve soil health in East Texas, help reduce production costs and avoid any adverse environmental impacts of intensive agricultural production.

Two soil issues in particular that cause significant trouble and expense to East Texas producer are soil acidity and low organic matter. These problems lead to having to applying high amounts of fertilizer, which raises production, Somenahally said.

“Recycling manure waste as a soil amendment is one good candidate for all these issues, but there are the issues of runoff into rivers and streams to consider,” he said.

He would like to examine other possibilities for increasing organic matter in soils.

“Another good organic candidate would be carbon in some form such as plant residue or processed manure,” Somenahally said. “More carbon could have numerous benefits for soils.”

In soil, carbon can be tied up with soil minerals for years or even decades without microbial breakdown—it’s called carbon sequestration.
“Sequestering carbon in the soil is in itself a good thing,” Somenahally said. “More carbon in the soil improves soil fertility status and can offset soil acidity effects on crops to a degree.”

Toward these ends, Somenahally is expanding and modernizing the soil and water analysis capability at the center.
Somenahally is also interested in conducting research to learn about soil health and microbial diversity of the region’s soils.
“My long-term research interest is to understand how soil microbes affect soil fertility and crop production,” he said.

Only a few years ago, getting an overview of soil microbial populations would have been a daunting task, he said. But advances in genetic research in conjunction with information technology have made “microbial inventories” of a given environment not just possible but economical.

Somenahally said he doesn’t plan to “reinvent the wheel,” in this regard, but contribute to the existing knowledge and to promote best management practices built on native soil functions. For this, he plans partnerships with researchers based in Overton and College Station.

“There are literally thousands of microbial species in any soil that work together as a community and play an important role by providing nutrients to agricultural plants,” he said. “In most cases, it is microbial action that ‘mineralizes’ nitrogen so it can be utilized by plants. Some microbes can form a symbiotic relationship with certain plants to increase nitrogen status of soils by converting atmospheric nitrogen to plant usable form, which we call ‘biological nitrogen fixation’ in scientific terms. Some groups of microbes are environmental stewards as they break down contaminants such as leftover pesticides, and reduce toxicity of heavy metals left over from historical pesticides used decades ago.”

Though there has been quite a bit of research already done in these areas, Somenahally said he would like to take this work further in regards to plant nutrition, environmental remediation and agricultural sustainability issues.

Somenahally said terms such as “sustainable” and “holistic approach” may just sound like buzzwords to some, but both really center on good land stewardship.

“All the producers I have had the pleasure to know, including my father, have all considered themselves good stewards of the land,” he said. “Most want to conserve the quality of their land not only 20 years in the future for themselves, but beyond that for their children and grandchildren. I hope to help them do this better by providing appropriate scientific knowledge with my research.”

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