Carbon Farming & Economy Courses - Santa Barbara

Improving land management with leading edge technology and holistic practices

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Elaine Ingham


Dr. Elaine Ingham is an energetic, easy-to-understand speaker who explains what life in the soil is all about. Behind this "user-friendly" approach lies a wealth of knowledge gained from years of intensive research into the organisms which make up the soil food web. Elaine not only understands the soil food web, she has knowledge on how to ensure a healthy food web to promote plant growth and reduce reliance on inorganic chemicals.

While truly an academic, Elaine is also passionate about sharing her knowledge and research findings with those at the grass roots level of working with soils. That includes not just farmers who grow crops, but also those who graze cattle, sheep and other livestock, fruit and vegetable growers, greens keepers, parks and gardens workers, nursery operators - in fact anyone who grows things, even if it's just plain old lawn grass.

Elaine offers a way forward for sustainable farming. A way of improving the soils we work with now and a way to keep soils in this healthier state without damaging any other eco-system.

Attendance at Elaine's courses is always very high with a broad cross section of people taking advantage of her knowledge sharing. It is exciting that a speaker with such a depth of knowledge and dynamic presentation style, who is respected the world over as a leader in research of the soil food web is sharing this information with us.

A biography of Dr. Ingham follows:

Dr. Ingham is President and Director of Research at Soil Foodweb Inc., a small business that grew out of her Oregon State University research program. Her research is on: What organisms are present in the soil and on the foliage of your plants, which organisms benefit which types of plants, which organisms harm plants, how can these organisms be managed to grow plants with the least expensive inputs into the system while maintaining soil fertility.

Elaine started her academic career at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN graduating in 1974 with a double major, cum laude, in Biology and Chemistry. Elaine earned her Master of Science in Microbiology in 1977 at Texas A & M University and her doctorate degree from Colorado State University in 1981. Elaine's doctorate is in Microbiology with an emphasis on soil. Elaine was offered Post-doctoral Fellowship, along with her husband Russ (who also has a doctorate from Colorado State University in Zoology, emphasizing nematology), at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University. In 1985, Elaine accepted a Research Associate Fellowship at the University of Georgia.

In 1986, Elaine moved to Oregon State University, and joined the faculty in both Forest Science and Botany and Plant Pathology. For several years, Elaine's 'home' department was Botany and Plant Pathology. In 1991, because the number of samples from outside Elaine's immediate program being sent to her for analysis were becoming a large component of what she was doing, Elaine opened a service through the University called the Soil Microbial Biomass Service. The Service offered researchers and commercial clients the ability to have soil samples analyzed for soil foodweb organisms. During this time, Elaine became known as an energetic and easy-to-understand speaker who explained what life in the soil was all about, and she started speaking to groups throughout the United States about the Soil Foodweb.

By 1995, the number of samples coming into the Soil Microbial Biomass Service was close to 8,000 samples a year, and the amount of lab space required to process this number of samples was greater than originally planned. The head of Elaine's department asked that the commercial portion of the Biomass Service be taken off-campus. Thus, in the fall of 1996, Soil Foodweb Inc. became a commercial enterprise.

With the move into a private lab, Elaine's focus turned more to grower-related issues, focusing on the expense of intensive chemical use as well as the damage these chemicals inflict on beneficial organisms in the soil and on foliage.

The research and practical understanding and application of soil organisms continue at Soil Foodweb Inc., while much of the academic side of her work remains at the University. In December 2000 a new Soil Foodweb lab was opened in Australia, at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia so that grower's down-under could have overnight access to the assays they need to improve plant production without the use of high levels of inorganic chemicals. The Lab Director at the Australia lab is Merline Olson, Certified Soil Foodweb Advisor.

Since 1996, Dr. Ingham and her staff (Brian Pearson, Diane Johnson, Kelsi Fitch, Robert Shepard and Matthew Slaughter) have developed three new methods. These methods more rapidly assess soil and foliage-related organisms, and are a major breakthrough for easily assessing how soil and foliar biology changes with different management practices. Her work with biological products with Lyndon Smith, Wayne Woodward and Jim Johnson of Huma-Gro and with Tom Piatkowski of Helena Chemical Company is leading the way for understanding which bio-stimulant products work best, and how much material is needed to achieve desired improvements in soil organism functions. Work with Ken Warner of Frontier Industries and Ron Stewart of Columbia Gorge Organics on how to make the best humus material possible shows that establishing biological components of the foodweb, and giving the biology the foods needed, long-term benefits for plant growth are achieved.

Recent improvements have been with Beneficial Organism Identification and Quantification. Working with Holmes Enviro Lab, SFI is offering a new assay using selective media and molecular methods to identify whether 20 of the most beneficial bacteria are present in your soil, compost, or compost tea.

Working on compost tea with many people around the world has brought a greater understanding of how to properly manage thermally produced compost, vermicompost, and compost tea to guarantee disease-suppressive, soil-building, nutrient-retaining composts and compost teas.

Dr. Ingham maintains a website where the results of work done at Soil Foodweb Inc and in her University research program are posted. Her publication, The Compost Tea Brewing Manual, is updated periodically to include the latest results in compost tea work. She writes occasional columns for a variety of magazines and papers. Dr. Ingham has worked extensively on genetically engineered organism issues with a non-governmental organization called the Edmonds Institute, directed by Beth Burrows. Elaine is a strong advocate of sound ecological testing of all genetically engineered organisms before they are released into the environment. In her spare time, Elaine publishes scientific papers, writes book chapters, gives talks at meetings and symposia around the world and has a family. Her current projects range from working in citrus groves in Florida, to cotton and avocado in Australia, turf and golf courses in many places, roadside restoration in California and just about every other plant system in between.



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