Texas Tech University

Climate Sciences Group
John Zak (far left) 
with the Climate Sciences Group

John Zak, co-director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center, has been selected as a member of the newly established U.S. Department of Agriculture Southern Plains Climate Hub's soil health advisory committee, which covers Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Zak's research focuses on how climate variability and human disturbances regulate soil microbial diversity in natural and agro-ecosystems. He also is a professor of biology in the Texas Tech University Department of Biological Sciences, the associate dean for research in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Texas Tech principal investigator for the South Central Climate Science Center Consortium.

“The USDA committee will work with regional farmers, ranchers and other landowners to develop collaborations with individuals and scientists who are working to maintain critical soil health and important conservation practices,” Zak said. “The committee also will advise partners and producers concerning best practices for maintaining critical soil health across multiple land uses.”

The committee is based at the USDA Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Oklahoma. Its goals are to help regional producers maintain and improve soil health, which can then increase soil organic matter and soil carbon storage, promote increased water infiltration and reduce production costs.

“The droughts of the 1920s and 1950s showed us the devastating implications of not paying attention to soil health across the region,” Zak said. “All agriculture is dependent upon the ability of the soil microbial communities, coupled with the soil micro and macro animals, to carryout necessary functions. Our charge as stewards of the land is to manage our soils to ensure these critical soil interactions are maintained while also reducing the overall costs of inputs such as fertilizers and other forms of energy.”