Agron 502 covers the basics of soil science focused primarily for crop production. This involves many factors (Fig. 2) from climate (i.e. sun, rain, evaporation, temperature) to what the soils are developing from (bedrock or other materials) to living things (vegetation, microorganisms, earthworms) to landscape characteristics (erosion or drainage) to time (weathering). To cover these topics, first we will look at soils in general and then look closer at soil properties as they relate to three areas: soil chemistry, soil physics, and soil biology. Although we will be talking about specific details in soils, we will always try to look at these properties in relation to a bigger picture — crop production and the environment. We realize that many of you have vast experiences with soils in your profession and we would like this course to bring out your experiences through the discussion and assignments.
Agron 502 is one of the beginning courses in the MS in Agronomy distance education program. It is a course that builds towards other soil courses in the program, Agron 512: Soil-Plant Environment and Agron 532: Soil Management. Agron 512 focuses deeper on soil physical properties, nutrients and their cycles, and plant growth relative to soil properties, whereas Agron 532 focuses on field level management of soils. Agron 502 also builds towards the three capstone courses in the program, Agron 591: Agronomic Systems Analysis, Agron 592: Current Issues in Agronomy, and Agron 594: Workshop in Agronomy (on-campus). These capstone courses encompass all areas of agronomy from individual properties of crops and soils, to field, farm, regional, and global agriculture and the environment. As with any course, the depth and level of details presented do not fully explore any particular concept. The course material is a summary of what we considered to be the most relevant information you need to know in order to support your reasoning when making assessments on agronomic and environmental issues related to or impacted by soils and their management. Consequently, it is important to fully understand the course information at the level of detail presented in order to build your own mental database, which should enable you to be critical about new information in the future.
Everyone has a different level of knowledge about soil. We all know this course contains concepts that will be easy for some and more work for others to learn. It is inevitable. This is because what you know is based on your experiences and everyone has different experiences. However, even if you know a lot about soils, knowing what you understand and what you don't understand is important to learning more. Also, it is beneficial for us (instructors and program) to have an understanding of what you know coming into the course, how you connect these together, and how deeply you connect them so we can build more relevant courses. This is why there are assignments and discussions in this course that ask you what you know and how you can contribute to the course. Let's start with an assignment...
- To understand that knowledge of soils and their properties are vital to crop production.
- To be able to look at individual soil properties and understand how they fit in the larger picture of agriculture, the environment, and the world.
- To broaden your understanding of soils to improve your utilization of information for understanding and solving problems.