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Ohio State prof wins Food Prize

DES MOINES (AP) — A soil scientist whose research led to improved food production and a better understanding of how atmospheric carbon can be held in the soil to help combat climate change was named this year’s recipient of the World Food Prize on Thursday.

Rattan Lal is a professor of soil science at Ohio State University and founding director of the university’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center.

World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson announced Lal as the winner. The ceremony was held online rather than live in Washington because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“Dr. Lal is a trailblazer in soil science with a prodigious passion for research that improves soil health, enhances agricultural production, improves the nutritional quality of food, restores the environment and mitigates climate change,” Stinson said.

Lal has developed and promoted the idea that healthy soil must not only have the usual nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but must have depleted carbon restored by leaving crop residue. This focus on soil’s physical properties diverged from the conventional soil fertility strategy in the 1970s, which relied heavily on replacing nutrients by applying fertilizer.

Lal’s research in the 1990s revealed that restoring degraded soils through increasing soil carbon and organic matter not only improved soil health, but helped combat rising carbon dioxide levels in the air by sequestering atmospheric carbon. His analysis showed that soils can sequester carbon at rates as high as 2.6 gigatons per year.

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