Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Soil Extension Specialist Excited to be in Kentucky

Figure 1. Dr. McGrath demonstrating variable rate
nitrogen application in corn using
GreenSeeker Sensors to Lynne Hoot, executive director
of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board.
On July 1, 2014 Dr. Josh McGrath started with the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, College of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, University of Kentucky as an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in soil management. Prior to joining the faculty at University of Kentucky, Dr. McGrath was an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist at University of Maryland and was heavily involved in Chesapeake Bay water quality issues.

Dr. McGrath’s research and Extension program in Maryland focused on agricultural productivity and environmental quality as they relate to soil fertility, nutrient management, and water quality. He has conducted research and Extension programming on enhanced efficiency fertilizers, phosphorus management to protect water quality, sulfur fertility, in-situ treatment of agricultural drainage to remove phosphorus and nitrogen; precision agriculture and variable rate nutrient management; and manure management in no-till.

Josh is excited to continue working in these areas here in Kentucky. In particular, he would like to look at algorithms that can be used with active optical sensors to guide variable rate nitrogen management in Kentucky corn production. This technology focuses on providing nitrogen where it is needed in the field, maximizing yield while minimizing fertilizer costs.

Josh is bringing a project with him from Maryland, working with collaborators from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland on design improvements for a poultry litter injector developed by the USDA-ARS in Booneville, Arkansas. This machine dubbed the “Subsurfer” works like a no-till planter to place poultry litter 4 – 5” below the soil surface in pastures and no-till fields. Doing so conserves ammonia and virtually eliminates runoff phosphorus from the applied manure, benefiting the farm bottom line and the environment. He anticipates starting field demonstrations of the redesigned injector next spring here in Kentucky.
Figure 2. Dr. McGrath (second from the right)
discusses Subsurfer redesign with collaborators
from Maryland, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Josh believes
this technology will provide value to no-till farmers
in Kentucky who are using poultry litter
Dr. McGrath was born and raised in Smyrna, Delaware, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Earth Sciences, and earned his Ph.D. in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Delaware. After completing his Ph.D. Josh was a post-doctoral researcher at Virginia Tech, spending most of his time travelling the southern Appalachian coal fields, including eastern Kentucky, investigating how the soil could be improved to support reforestation of reclaimed surface mines. When not thinking about N, P, and K, Josh is an avid outdoorsman and is looking forward to hunting and fishing in Kentucky. Josh has been a volunteer firefighter for 23 years and while in graduate school served with the Delaware wildfire crew on western fire assignments.

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