Katja at a field day demonstrating a crop

Infusing real-time complexities into soil health education and research

This story was originally published UNL Cropwatch. It has been adapted and re-published here.

In March 2022, Katja Koehler-Cole started a new position as a soil health management extension educator for the University of Nebraska Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension and Education Center. While her role doing soil health research and programming state-wide for Nebraska Extension is new, Koehler-Cole has been studying the impact of cover crops at the University of Nebraska for quite some time.

Katja doing sampling in a corn fieldKoehler-Cole got Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources in 2015 and has been with the university ever since studying the impact of cover crops and green manures in corn, soybean, and wheat systems in various roles. Her work has focused on the agronomic management of cover crops to reach specific management goals. Her research, and others, has shown modest improvements in microbial activity and soil aggregation by adopting cover crops and Koehler-Cole is eager to look at changes in the diversity and abundance of microbial communities further.

“If we really want to promote soil health then we need to look at soil as a living thing and study those microbial organisms – really look at how can we improve the habitat for all the little creatures living in the ground,” notes Koehler-Cole.

To do that, she is teaming up with Dr. Andrea Basche, Assistant Professor in Agronomy and Horticulture at UNL for cover crop cultivar trails to look at impact of cover crops across the state in a variety of conditions – irrigated lands, drylands, fall planting, spring planting, etc.

She is also looking to do more on-farm research with farmers in different parts of the state to ensure that her research reflects the complexity of real-life management systems.

“Some long-term research can be unrealistic because you are controlling for so many factors that we cannot control for in real life scenarios. Life is messy and it is important to put that messiness and complexity into our research so that we know the results we get empirically are realistic for producers,” notes Koehler-Cole.

As a part of her work, Koehler-Cole is also doing educational programming throughout the state – and this field season she has been busy traveling across the state for field days, workshops, and demonstrations on cover crops, soil health, and soil amendments. Just this week she was in North Platte with members of the Soil Health Nexus team conducting a Water, Crops and Soil Health Field Day focusing on solving producer soil health challenges.

“There is no one single practice that will be the silver bullet for soil health – there are a mix of practices to improve soils and make them healthy,” notes Koehler-Cole. “I hope my work – both research and educational outreach – can help demonstrate that moving forward.”

Katja Koehler-Cole, Statewide Soil Health Management Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension

Katja sending in front of a fieldKatja Koehler-Cole is the Statewide Soil Health Management extension educator for Nebraska. Before she started this position, she worked as a researcher in the Agronomy & Horticulture department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Katja’s work has focused on increasing the use of soil health practices in Nebraska cropping systems, drawing on the connections between soils, plants, animals, and people. She has a particular interest in cover crops as a means to increase soil armor and have living roots in the ground year-round. Outside her work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, four daughters and numerous indoor and outdoor plants.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *