A Conversation with a World Food Prize Laureate

Dr. Rattan Lal, renowned soil scientist, discusses his work in sorghum sustainability and research and dives into what he hopes his research will bring to the industry.

Article by John Duff, Sero Ag Strategies

Dr. Rattan Lal is a renowned soil scientist who has focused on sustainable agriculture since the early 1970s – well before it was a popular discipline. In 2022, National Sorghum Producers and the United Sorghum Checkoff Program had the opportunity to lend matching support to a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) grant led by Dr. Lal and his team at The Ohio State University. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Lal about his background and the project.

What is your background?

Dr. Lal: I’m a soil scientist focused on soil carbon sequestration, conservation agriculture and sustainable land management. I’m originally from India, but I earned my Ph.D. in soil science from The Ohio State University. Today, I serve as a Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at the School of Environment and Natural Resources in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and Director of CFAES Rattan Lal Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration.

Talk about your key accomplishments.

Dr. Lal: I’ve received accolades such as the World Food Prize and the Japan Prize, but I’ve also had the opportunity to advance sustainable soil management to address climate change and enhance global food security. An important ongoing project is the Carbon Farming Alliance for Research and Management (C-FARM) FFAR grant, to which your organizations are key contributors.

Summarize C-FARM in a few sentences.

Dr. Lal: C-FARM aims to confirm and build on decades of experimental research about soil organic carbon and carbon sequestration rates in agriculture across the U.S. By conducting on-farm measurements, C-FARM examines the impact of farming practices on carbon and how they affect soil health, agronomic productivity, greenhouse gas emissions and soil carbon stocks. C-FARM is a collaborative project with over 18 partners across the continental U.S. and Latin America.

What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

Dr. Lal: C-FARM will create actionable soil management strategies to help producers adapt in this changing climate. By offering farmers, agronomists, policymakers, industry partners and other stakeholders access to practical tools and recommendations, C-FARM hopes to empower informed decision-making around soil carbon sequestration practices, thereby building resilience and possible income streams for producers nationwide. The information produced will be key to developing a protocol for rewarding land managers for carbon sequestration and calculating the costs of doing so.

NSP thanks Dr. Lal for his time and efforts. It is a great project the sorghum industry is proud to support while it is ongoing over the next several years. Sorghum farmers were some of the earliest adopters of conservation practices, so we look forward to seeing the tools this project creates that will enable them to continue that legacy of sustainability.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.