New NDSU research on soil biological function

Study will look at how soil microbial community function across multiple agricultural systems.

Agricultural Microbiomes Lab.png
Photos of the Agribiome Research Initiative at NDSU, led by NDSU research faculty, Samiran (Sam) Banerjee. (Courtesy of Samiran Banerjee)

There’s an interesting study starting the Summer 2020, focused on biological function in agricultural systems in North Dakota. In the past, we’ve worked hard to build information on the chemical properties of soils (fertility, salts, organic matter), physical properties (aggregation, soil texture, water movement) and have been making headway on biological communities and function with Caley Gasch, NDSU Soil Health, along with many other faculty including a biological piece to their research projects. But we still need to get more of a grasp on how soil microbial community function across multiple agricultural systems — a state-wide study. This is part of the Agribiome Research Initiative at NDSU and led by NDSU research faculty, Samiran (Sam) Banerjee.

Before we get into agribiome project, I think it’s important to get to know the researcher doing the work and the experience he brings to North Dakota. Sam was hired at NDSU in 2019 and has been scientifically trained all over the world, receiving his graduate degrees in Saskatchewan and the United Kingdom and working in Switzerland and Australia before coming to NDSU. Sam has the experience and enthusiasm to get a really nice baseline for North Dakota (which will inevitably help the entire region). He’s also a really easy person to talk with and share ideas — which is going to make this complex information translatable to use on-farm.

What does agribiome mean and why is it such a big deal? It refers to the role microbial communities play and the services they provide — like nutrient cycling and efficiency, aggregate stabilization which in turn improves trafficability and water movement and how these microbial communities interact with plants to produce healthy, abundant crops and forages. Microbial communities are influenced by management (we know that), but to what degree and how do the services they provide differ with management? This is what Sam and other NDSU faculty and partnering organizations will be working on.

Sam’s statewide project will include 200 or more fields in North Dakota — with five to six fields per county sampled three times in 2020. All soil types, management and tillage intensity are going to be included (approximately 160 fields), along with grasslands and organic systems (approximately 20 fields of each). The only requirement that will be the same across all fields in the study, each field (outside of the grassland sites) will be seeded to spring wheat for 2020.

Sam and his crew will be doing a comprehensive soil characterization for each field along with assessment of the biological components. This includes, and not to scare you away with terminology, but amplicon sequencing (meaning categorizing into bacteria, fungi and protist organisms) and metatranscriptomics (this term is well over my head too, but it just means they are measuring the functionality of the agricultural systems).


We have a cooperator list of North Dakota farmers about half complete and need more cooperators in the state! Specifics of your field will be kept confidential and you will receive information (e.g., soil health and microbial diversity) specific to your fields at the end of the study. If you are interested in being part of this study, contact Sam Banerjee ( or if you’re on Twitter, message him @ sbanerjee2018 ) or his Research Specialist, Kim Zitnick Anderson ( ; cell: 240 298 2164). You can also contact me (cell: 710-850-6458) or your NDSU Extension county agent and they can pass along your information/interest.

Abbey Wick is an Extension soil health specialist at North Dakota State University.

Soil Health Minute
What To Read Next
Get Local