Saturday, March 19, 2016

The “Scheffer/Schachtschabel Soil Science” Textbook

The Scheffer/Schachtschabel Lehrbuch der Bodenkunde (Textbook of Soil Science), the renowned standard textbook on soil science in German-speaking countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, is now available in English for the first time.  The first edition of this highly cited book was published in 1937 under the title “Agrikulturchemie, Teil A: Boden” (Agricultural Chemistry, Part A: Soil). 

Based on the 16th  German edition which was written by a team of leading soil scientists (all renowned professors of soil science), the 2016 English edition was published by Springer Verlag, so it is available globally. I really applaud this development since I have always admired and used this book since the time I was a doctoral student in Stuttgart-Hohenheim many years ago and until now as a professor of soil science at Visayas State University. I remember I read the 10th German edition several times, from cover to cover, in preparation for my comprehensive examination under Prof. K. Stahr. In my opinion, this is among the best, if not the best, soil science textbook for undergraduate and graduate students available today.  It is also an excellent reference for soil researchers. I have already bought an electronic copy of the book and I highly recommend it to all those interested in learning soil science.

You can also find an article about this book which I wrote in 2012 for the Bulletin of the International Union of Soil Sciences. At that time I was asked by the editor of the bulletin to name my top three soil science books.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Organic Fertilizers, Organic Plant Growth Regulator, and Organic Plant Supplement as defined in the new Philippine National Standard for Organic Fertilizer

The new Philippine National Standard (PNS) for Organic Fertilizer was published in 2013 by the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards (BAFPS) of the Department of Agriculture (PNS/BAFPS 40:2013).

According to this new PNS, Organic Fertilizer is “any product in solid or liquid form, of plant (except by-products from petroleum industries) or animal origin that has undergone substantial decomposition that can supply available nutrients to plants with a total Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) of five to seven percent (5-7%). This may be enriched by microbial inoculants and naturally occurring minerals but no chemical or inorganic fertilizer material has been added to the finished product to affect the nutrient content.”

Organic Plant Growth Regulator/Promoter is “any compound of organic origin, in liquid or solid form, which in low concentration promotes or modifies physiological process in plants.”

Organic Plant Supplement is “any compound of organic origin in liquid or solid form which in low concentration promotes or modifies physiological processes in plants. Total NPK is not lower than 0.5% and not more than 2.5% (0.5-2.5%) and may contain beneficial microorganisms, micronutrients and plant growth regulators. These plant supplements include, but are not limited to: FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice), FFJ (Fermented Fruit Juice), FAA (Fish Amino Acid), FE (Fish Emulsion), Seaweed Extracts, Vermi Tea, Compost Tea and the like.”

The Technical Working Group which prepared the new/revised PNS was composed of: Dr. Leo P. Caneda, Executive Director, BAFPS (Chair) and the following members: Dr. N.B. Inciong (Professional Regulation Commission), Dr. E.P. Paningbatan Jr (Univ Philippines Los Banos), Dr. E.S. Paterno (UPLB), Dr. P.B. Sanchez (UPLB), Dr. V.C. Cuevas (UPLB), Dr. G.V. Pangga (UPLB), Dr. B.M. Calub (UPLB), Dr. N.E de la Cruz (Central Luzon State University), Dr. V.B. Asio (Visayas State University), Ms. J.B. Lansangan (Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority), Ms. P. Orpia (Bureau of Soil and Water Management), Ms. L.K. Limpin (Organic Certification Center of the Phil), Mr.  A. Aquino (Negros Island Certification Agency), and Mr. P.Belisario (Organic Producers and Traders Association).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A new book on F.A. Fallou provides details of his life and contributions to Soil Science

A new book titled "Friedrich Albert Fallou und the Begruendung der Bodenkunde" (Friedrich Albert Fallou and the Founding of Soil Science) has been published in 2013 as volume 33 (Heft 33) of the "Waldheimer Heimatblaetter", a monograph series published by Waldheim, a town in Saxony, Germany.

Friedrich Albert Fallou & the Founding of Soil Science
F.A. Fallou (1794-1877) has been considered by several authors as the Father of Soil Science. This was the subject of an article I posted earlier on this blog. Unfortunately, this distinction has been wrongly attributed to the Russian V.V. Dokuchaev. For this reason, the prominent Russian historian Jarilow wrote in 1904 that "Fallou is one of humanity's forgotten best sons".

The book  provides clear and strong evidence that Fallou founded the scientific study of soil. It was authored by two retired prominent professors, Prof. Dr. Heiner Kaden (Chemistry, Technical University Freiberg) and Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Fiedler (Soil Science, Technical University of Dresden). Prof. Fiedler has published numerous books and articles on soil science and has in fact written articles on Fallou. He is thus highly qualified to write about Fallou's works.

This is the first publication that presents a complete picture of Fallou: his origin, childhood, education, and professional activities particularly in the field of geology and of course his pioneering contribution to soil science. Some of the interesting revelations in the book include the following: a) Fallou finished his Bachelor of Law studies from the University of Leipzig,  b) he contributed rock samples (e.g. serpentinite) to a museum of natural history, c) he won a scientific prize for a paper he authored, d) he was awarded a Knight's Cross First Class medal by Saxony in 1870 for his works in geology and soil science, and e) Fallou was an introvert who lived a solitary life.

This is a very important book and it deserves to be translated into English so it would be useful to students of soil science in different parts of the world.

I thank Prof. Dr. Kaden for sending me a copy of the book. It will be an important addition to my personal collection on soil science history.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Anthropocene: The Human Age

Anthropocene is the term coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, the Nobel laureate from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany, to refer to the current geological epoch characterized by the global impact of human activity. The Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy defines it as the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities ( 

The conditions and processes include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming; the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals; environmental conditions generated by these perturbations which include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic 'dead zones'; the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above ( 

According to a recent article in Nature Vol 519 (12 March 2015) by Richard Monastersky, momentum is building to establish a new geological epoch that recognizes humanity’s impact on the planet. But there is fierce debate among scientists whether or not to revise the Geologic Time Scale which is used by millions of people around the world, to accommodate the Anthropocene on top of the Holocene epoch (see scale below).

One focus of the debate is the start of the new epoch. When did it actually began? Recent suggestions include 1610 and 1964. The 1610 suggestion is based on the dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide (measured from Antarctic ice cores) due to forest regeneration of huge areas of abandoned farmlands in Europe. The 1964 proposal is based on the high proportion of radioactive isotopes from the nuclear weapons testing (R. Gonzalez at www.io9com). But the Anthropocene Working Group considers the beginning of the 'Anthropocene' as c. 1800, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.

Once the proposal for an Anthropocene epoch is, after a long process, accepted by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the Quaternary period in the Geologic Time Scale above would consist of three (not anymore two) epochs: Pleistocene (2.6 mya to 12,000 yrs ago), Holocene (12,000 yrs ago to c. 1800) and Anthropocene (c. 1800 to present).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Properties of Soils from Ultramafic Rocks in the Degraded Grassland Watershed in Basper, Leyte

Cecille Marie O. Quiñones
Instructor, Department of Soil Science
Visayas State University

Ultramafic rocks are those containing less than 45 percent silica with color indices more than 70 (Huang, 1962). These rocks, being igneous in nature, could have been derived directly from the earth’s mantle or indirectly from other mantle-derived material such as basaltic magma (Wyllie, 1969). Most of them are outcrops of oceanic lithosphere as ophiolite belts and typically found in areas within the Circum-Pacific margin and Mediterranean Sea (Oze et al., 2004). In the tropical Far East, the Philippines has considerable number of ultramafic areas that are within Ophiolite complexes. However, extensive studies pertaining to the plant and soil chemistry of ultramafic soils have been mostly focused in the Palawan region and Sibuyan Islands (Proctor, 2003). Modest attention is given to other ophiolitic areas such as those enclosed within the Tacloban ophiolite/ophiolitic complex in Leyte. 
The Ophiolite complex in northeastern Leyte (Dimalanta et al., 2006)
Dimalanta et al. (2006) reported that Leyte is within the Philippine arc island system wherein the island itself is composed of Cretaceous arc rocks and ophiolitic rocks. According to them, these rocks are oceanic lithosphere fragments that are covered by sedimentary carapace which imply deep marine environment and associated metamorphic rocks such as metamorphic soles of amphibolite, serpentinite, regionally metamorphosed rocks, and ocean floor metamorphosed rocks. Two ophiolitic areas found in Leyte are the Malitbog and Tacloban Ophiolite complexes. The Tacloban Ophiolite complex is composed of residual peridotite particularly harzburgites, layered to massive gabbros, sheeted diabase, and basalt dike complex. The identity unit of the Tacloban Ophiolite complex is the isotropic gabbro section. 

The soil that developed from an ultramafic rock, especially after it has been metamorphosed, is generally branded with low concentrations of plant nutrients and high content of potentially toxic elements such as Nickel (Ni), Chromium (Cr), and Cadmium (Cd) (Oze et al. 2004; Cheng et al., 2011). Moreover, Chardot et al. (2007) reiterated three specific pedogenic processes that occur in ultramafic rocks. First is the relatively fast Ca leaching, second is the formation of black humus mainly mull type on the topsoil, and third is the subsoil formation of clay texture horizon structure that is generally weakly structured. 

The properties of soils in degraded watersheds underlain by ultramafic rocks are relatively unknown. Thus, this study was conducted in the project site of the ACIAR Hydrology Project of Professor L. Bruijnzeel (Free University of Amsterdam) in Basper, Tacloban, Northeastern Leyte. Seven soil profiles were studied in various slope positions in the grassland watershed to characterize the area in terms of their soil morphological, physico-hydrological, and chemical properties as influenced by its parent material. Stream water samples were also collected for selected property determination including the contribution of sources to the cation concentration.  

The Basper watershed in Tacloban, Leyte 
Results showed that soils in the study site ranged from poorly to moderately developed and from shallow to deep profile. The soil profile development appears to be related to the slope positions. Those on the footslope and summit positions had thinner solum while those in the lower backslope developed into deep soils. In addition, the soils are generally clay loam to sandy clay loam in the upper horizon. They tend to be sandy in the lower section of the profile due to the saprolite coming from the ultramafic parent rock. Measurements of physico-hydrological properties indicate that bulk density values increased with depth accompanied by a decrease in total and air-filled porosity. Furthermore, saturated hydraulic conductivity of surface soils are moderately low to moderately high than the subsurface soils.

The soil in the summit position of the watershed showing the greenish ultramafic rock in the lower soil profile.
In terms of chemical properties, results showed soil pH values varying from 5.9 to 7.10 indicating near neutral soil reaction due to high Ca and Mg of the ultramafic parent material. Soil organic carbon is generally low as well as the total N content. Available P varies from very low to high. Exchangeable Ca and Mg are high while the exchangeable K and Na are low. Because of the high exchangeable Ca and Mg, the base saturation values of the soils are generally high which also resulted in the low values of exchangeable H and Al in the soils. Effective CEC measures of the soils range from 10.61 to 25.81 cmolc kg-1 indicating low values.

The study also revealed a baseflow electrical conductivity ranging between 111.30 to 317.00 µS cm-1. Calculated weathering index using Na/(Ca+Na) showed that weathering of the ultramafic rock is the major source of cations in the stream water in the watershed. This study overall displayed the dominant role of parent material and slope position in the development and properties of the soils from ultramafic rocks in the area. 


The article is based on my MSc thesis. I am grateful to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for the ASTHRDP-NSC graduate scholarship, my Graduate Advisory Committee, and Prof. Bruijnzeel.


CHARDOT, V., G. ECHEVARRIA, M. GURY, S. MASSOURA AND J. L. 2007. Nickel bioavailability in an ultramafic toposequence in the Vosges Mountains (France). Plant Soil 293: 7-21.
CHENG, C., S. JIEN, Y. IIZUKA, H. TSAI, Y. CHANG AND Z. HSEU. 2011. Pedogenic chromium and nickel partitioning in serpentine soils along a toposequence. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 75: 659–668.
DIMALANTA, C. B., L. O. SUERTE, G. P. YUMUL, R. A. TAMAYO AND E. G. L. RAMOS. 2006. A cretaceous supra-subduction oceanic basin source for Central Philippine ophiolitic basement complex: Geological and geophysical constraints. Geosciences 10 (3): 305-320.
HUANG, W. T. H. 1962. Petrology. McGraw-Hill Book Company. USA. 480 pp.
OZE, C., S. FENDORF, D.K. BIRD AND R.G. COLEMAN. 2004. Chromium geochemistry in serpentinized ultramafic c rocks and serpentine soils from the Franciscan complex of California. Am. J. Sci. 304:67–101.
PROCTOR, J. 2003. Vegetation and soil and plant chemistry on ultramafic rocks in the tropical Far East. Perpectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. Urban & Fischer Verlag. 6 (1-2): 105-124.
WYLLIE, P. J. 1969. The origin of ultramafic and ultrabasic rocks. Tectonophysics 7(5-6): 437-455.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Some notes on the soils and use of fertilizers and pesticides by vegetable farmers in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, Philippines

The gently rolling topography which typifies a large portion of the volcanic landscape in Claveria makes it ideal for intensive large-scale vegetable production. The widely grown vegetables include cabbage, beans, tomato, sweet pepper and eggplant.

The breathtaking volcanic landscape of Claveria, Misamis Oriental

But the strongly weathered soils which range from Oxisols in the lower slopes (about 400 to 600 m above sea level or asl) to Ultisols in the upper slopes (about 600 to 900m asl) are a major constraint to vegetable production in the area. Oxisols (also called Ferralsols) and Ultisols (also called Alisols and Acrisols) are clayey, reddish, acidic and nutrient-poor soils although they generally have good physical properties like good structure and moderate to high porosity. As in other volcanic landscapes, the oldest and most infertile soils (Oxisols) are formed on the older and stable lower slopes.

Dr. Apol & Nelds Gonzaga, Ruby Gabaca, Dr. Steve Harper & myself in front of an Ultisol soil at 920m asl. 

Farmers are apparently aware of the chemical and nutrient limitations inherent in these soils. That is why they apply lime and a variety of chemical and organic fertilizers. Rates of application are, however, not based on soil/plant tissue analysis but on what the farmers perceive as necessary. Thus, the rates appear to be insufficient in the case of lime, but excessive for the chemical fertilizers. This undoubtedly increases the production cost and can lead to more soil and environmental problems like acidification and groundwater pollution, respectively.

Heavy fertilizer application is done starting at planting of vegetables

Pest and diseases are also greatly affecting vegetable production in the Claveria landscape. As a result, farmers practice excessive application of pesticides which poses a serious threat to the health of the farming families, the consumers in urban centers, and the environment in general. The lack of awareness among farmers about the proper application of pesticides can be seen from their improper handling of these hazardous chemicals and from the fact that they just leave the pesticide containers at the farm borders.

It is common for farmers to mix two pesticides with water and spray the cocktail to the vegetables twice a week

The above observations strongly justify the urgent need for research on soil and nutrient management as well as integrated pest management in Claveria.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Renowned Australian soil scientist visits Visayas State University

Prof. Neal Menzies, professor of soil and environmental science and head of the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the prestigious University of Queensland, Australia, visited the Visayas State University (VSU), Leyte, Philippines from September 16-19, 2014. 

The purpose of his visit was to attend, as a collaborating scientist, the meeting of the ACIAR (Australian Center for International Agricultural Research) - funded Soils Project (Soil and Nutrient Management Strategies for Sustainable Vegetable Production in Southern Philippines- SMCN/2012/029) attended by scientists from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Dr. Stephen Harper and Ms. Zara Hall) and partners from the Visayas State University, University of the Philippines Los Banos, Bureau of Soil and Water Management, Landcare Foundation Philippines Incorporated, Misamis Oriental State College of Agriculture and Technology (MOSCAT) and the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF). 

Prof. Neal Menzies & Dr. Stephen Harper (project leader) pose with ACIAR project partners at the VSU beach

He also visited the proposed project site in the central highlands of Leyte (740m above sea level) and was able to observe firsthand the soil problems and fertilization practices of the vegetable farmers in the area (among the most important soil problems is related to the very high phosphorus fixing capacity of the young volcanic soils (Andisols) which developed from andesitic Quaternary volcanics). He also visited the different academic and research units of VSU particularly the Department of Agronomy and Soil Science which prides itself as one of the leading soil science departments in the Philippines today.

Prof. Menzies with VSU soil scientists 

Prof. Menzies was elected as Vice-President of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), the global organization of 55,000 soil scientists, from 2006 to 2010. He has also served as Secretary, Vice-President and President of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Society of Soil Science Inc. (ASSSI). He has published more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals many of which have received high citations in international publications.

Prof. Menzies with vegetable farmers & project partners in Cabintan, Ormoc, Leyte
ACIAR Soils Project (SMCN/2012/029): 2014-17

Project Leader: Dr. Stephen Harper, Principal Research Scientist
Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF)
Collaborating Scientist: Prof. Neal Menzies, Professor of Soil and Environmental Sciences
University of Queensland, Australia
Project Coordinator (Philippines): Dr. Victor B. Asio, Professor of Soil Science & Geo-ecology
Visayas State University, Baybay City, Leyte, Philippines
     VSU Team Members: Dr. A.B. Tulin, Dr. S.B. Lina, Dr. R. Salas and Cecille M. O. Quiñones
Project Partners: Dr. Pearl B. Sanchez (UPLB); Dr. Gina Nilo & Karen Bautista (BSWM),
Dr. Apol Gonzaga & Dr. Nelda Gonzaga (MOSCAT), Dr. Ben Aspera, Emily Garcia & Edwin Sardido (Landcare Foundation Phil Inc), and Dr. Jun Mercado (ICRAF).