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Penn State scientist visits Ukraine to learn more about their fertile soil

Penn State scientist visits Ukraine to learn more about their fertile soil

27 July 2020

Ukraine is called the “breadbasket of Europe,” a moniker earned because of the fertile, black soils that blanket its landscape.

As a longtime professor of environmental soil science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Rick Stehouwer has studied this famed “chernozem” soil, knowledge he acquired through books, lectures and lab samples.

He had the opportunity to expand his understanding and see the soil for himself thanks to a philanthropic program through the college’s Office of International Programs that paved the way for him to visit the Eastern European country last July.

While there, he also shared his enthusiasm for soil science with faculty and students from the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, or NULESU, by serving as a keynote speaker for the “U.S. Approach to Soil Profile Description: Field Practicum.”

During the three-day, field-oriented class, Stehouwer demonstrated U.S. practices in soil texture determination, structure assessment and color determination to 30 students and faculty. In addition, he took part in a formal research presentation for both faculty and students, providing an overview of 25 years of research on restoration of soils degraded by mining and on the production of biomass crops on reclaimed mine soils.


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"To learn something about another culture, another country, another way of looking at things — that kind of interaction is of tremendous value, and I have been enriched by this experience."
Rick Stehouwer, professor of environmental soil science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences

“The formal study of soil science has a rich history in Ukraine, so it was fascinating to be in the same places where soil science pioneers lived and worked,” said Stehouwer. “But the greatest benefit was the opportunity to experience another culture and exchange information about teaching practices and field techniques for the benefit of faculty and students from both countries.”

His trip was made possible by the Woskob New Century Fund, which was established by real estate developers Helen and Alex Woskob, of State College. The fund, now headed by George and Nina Woskob, supports a variety of programs focused on the exchange of faculty, researchers and scientists; joint seminars and academic meetings; cultural exchange activities; joint international training courses, programs and projects; joint consultation; and collaborative education, research and extension activities.

The partnership between the Woskob family and the College of Agricultural Sciences started in 1992 when the Woskobs established the Center of Ukrainian Agriculture at Penn State, enabling collaboration between Penn State and the Ukrainian Agricultural Academy in Kyiv, now known as NULESU.

While in Ukraine, Stehouwer was hosted by Yuriy Kravchenko, a soil scientist on the NULESU faculty, who spent the previous spring semester at Penn State as a visiting soil scientist, an experience that was facilitated by Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs for the college.

At Penn State, Kravchenko observed classes and collaborated with Stehouwer, Patrick Drohan, associate professor of pedology, Jack Watson, professor of soil science, soil physics and biogeochemistry, and Charlie White, assistant professor and extension specialist in soil fertility and nutrient management. He also conducted soils research with Jason Kaye, professor of soil biogeochemistry, and Ephraim Govere, director of the Soil Research Cluster Laboratory.

The exchange served as the catalyst for Stehouwer and Kravchenko to lead the summer seminar at the Kyiv-based university, with the hope that teaching collaborations could expand to other areas of soil science in the future. The training focused on USDA-standard approaches to description of landscapes and natural factors of soil formation, including lessons in soil erosion, taxonomy and soil classification, and ecological stability of soils.

The program included field studies of soils and vegetation in various areas, including glacial parent material soils in Holosiivskyi National Nature Park and alluvial parent material soils along the Dnipro and Desna rivers.

The practicum culminated with a field day at the university’s Mytniza Research Station looking at the deep, organic soils known as “black earth” — “chernozem” in Russian or “chornozem” in Ukrainian — for which Ukraine is famous. Stehouwer toured research fields near Pshenychne village and learned about studies examining fertilizer, planting density, tillage and other topics.

Stehouwer said he enjoyed working with the students and becoming acquainted with faculty members such as Victor Zabaluyev, soil scientist and professor; Oksana Tonha, dean of the agrobiology faculty and soil microbiologist; Anna Yarosh, meteorologist and land reclamation educator; Valentina Galimova, chemist; and Anatoliy Balayev, head of the Department of Soil Science and Soil Conservation; among others.

He deemed the trip a success, noting that a primary objective was to explore the possibilities for continued soil science teaching collaboration between NULESU and Penn State.

“For students, international experiences can expand their horizons and help them realize there is big world beyond Pennsylvania and the continental U.S.,” he said. “Ultimately, I would love to see NULESU and Penn State students interacting in soil science learning both virtually and in person through student exchanges. To learn something about another culture, another country, another way of looking at things — that kind of interaction is of tremendous value, and I have been enriched by this experience.”

Images courtesy of Yuriy Kravchenko
 

Further Reading

You can view more photos of Dr Stehouwer's trip by clicking here.

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