Organic Farming Improves Soil Health

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Organic soil management practices contribute to soil health and provide ecosystem services such as the minimization of nutrient losses to the environment and the reduction of plant susceptibility to disease. The journal article “Soil Health and Related Ecosystem Services in Organic Agriculture,” by Lynette K. Abbott and David A.C. Manning provides a useful review of the soil building benefits of organic farming.

What is organic soil management?
“There are more soil microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on Earth” (Hoorman and Islam, 2000). Diversity of soil microbial communities helps organic farmers ensure essential nutrients for plants are released in the correct quantities and at the right time. Organic farmers use natural soil amendments like geologic minerals, compost, and manure to deliver a slow release of nutrients into the soil.

Synthetic, highly soluble nutrient sources that are used in conventional farming are not allowed for organic farming. The materials used in organic farming require soil bacteria and fungi to break them down and create more soluble forms that plants can uptake through their roots.

Ecosystem services
Healthy soils created by organic systems have benefits for agricultural production and the environment. Abbott and Manning (2015) point out that organic soil management can increase nutrient use efficiency, reduce losses of nutrients to water bodies, reduce erosion, and increase access to water during drought periods.

The knowledge that healthy soil is a key to sustainable farming, and a research topic desired by farmers, led OFRF to prioritize funding for soil research in the 2016 request for proposals (RFP). OFRF is particularly interested in funding projects that research the issue of how to improve soil health. Research on better understanding soil structural and biological activates related to soil functions will allow farmers and ranchers to apply soil management practices that will rejuvenate and improve soil health. These functions are especially critical for growers living in changing water environments (arid regions, flood-prone regions, or growing non-irrigated crops). Understanding ways in which soil health contributes to resilience to drought or flooding will allow farmers and ranchers to be able to respond to these adverse conditions. For more information or to apply for a grant, please visit ofrf.org.

By Joanna Ory, Research Program Associate, OFRF

Image from Modern Farmer