Postdoctoral Researcher Hired as Assistant Professor of Soil Fertility

Gerson Drescher joins the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station as assistant professor of soil fertility.
Fred Miller

Gerson Drescher joins the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station as assistant professor of soil fertility.

Soil scientists are translators between soils, plants and producers to help communicate and predict a plant's nutrient requirements.

Gerson Drescher, assistant professor of soil fertility, is interested in expanding the tools and methods for plant and soil analysis to improve that line of communication.

"It is important for us to have tools to predict the nutrients available in the soil and the amount of nutrients that the crop needs to maximize yield and profitability," Drescher said.

Nutrient recommendations rely on timely and accurate analysis. "By the time you can visually diagnose a nutrient deficiency, you already compromised your yield potential to some extent," Drescher said.

Drescher first attended the U of A in 2017 through an exchange program while working on his doctorate at the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil.

In 2020, after completing his degree in Brazil, Drescher returned as a postdoctoral researcher with the Soil Testing Program within the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the U of A System Division of Agriculture. He was hired as an assistant professor in August 2022.

Drescher's primary research focus during his master's and doctorate programs was to improve nitrogen fertilizer recommendations for rice in southern Brazil.

As an exchange student, he used a soil-test method at the experiment station called N-STaR — Nitrogen Soil Test for Rice — to quantify nitrogen in Arkansas' soil. Trenton Roberts, associate professor of soil fertility and testing, and his team developed the program based on decades of research by experiment station soil scientists.

During his time as a postdoctoral researcher, Drescher investigated how to improve phosphorus and potassium recommendations for row crops and Bermuda grass for forage production.

The nutrient recommendations are discussed at research field days, and Drescher enjoys exchanging experiences and seeing the farmers' perspectives. He also likes learning about potential issues they face and how to address them.

Drescher uses numerous tools, developed by previous experiment station soil scientists, to develop accurate recommendations for nutrient application rates.

"In order to have accurate recommendations, regardless of the tool — soil-test based, handheld device or drone imagery — the development process is similar: correlation, calibration and field validation," Drescher said.

Jeff Edwards, department head of crop, soil and environmental sciences, said soil fertility is a historical strength of the department.

"Adding Dr. Drescher to our already strong soil fertility research team is going to make us better equipped to understand how to efficiently use fertilizer resources and benefit all Arkansas stakeholders," Edwards said.

Drescher and other researchers are working with a company to calibrate a handheld leaf-nitrogen measurement tool that will provide instant field-specific nitrogen recommendations for rice in Arkansas, Drescher said. The tool is linked to a phone app. Scientists in Europe initially developed the technology, and it can be used to assist with nitrogen management in other cereal crops.

Drescher and other faculty also collaborate to understand how agronomic practices in the crop production systems affect the soil's health and the agricultural production system's resilience.

They accomplish part of that by working with the Arkansas Discovery Farms Program, administered by the Division of Agriculture, to monitor water quality. The program centers on engaging farmers in the conservation process by conducting research in farmers' fields.

"It is important for us to manage nutrients efficiently because we want to make sure, with a timely soil or plant analysis procedure, to know how much of a certain nutrient a crop might need, so we can maximize not only our producers' yield and profitability, but also minimize potential impact to the environment, such as water quality."

Drescher will also teach classes in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

"Soil fertility is a core agronomic concept, and it is great to have someone like Dr. Drescher on our team to train the next generation of consultants, farmers and scientists," Edwards said.

Drescher taught while completing his education at the Federal University of Brazil and is eager to teach again.

"I like to communicate the experiences that we have and how some of these ideas or research that we are developing actually apply in a real-life situation," Drescher said.

Drescher completed his education at the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil. In 2013, he received his bachelor's degree in agronomy and his master's and doctoral degrees in soil sciences in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

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