Submitted to: Agronomy Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/1/2006
Publication Date: 11/12/2006
Citation: Kremer, R.J., Hezel, L. 2006. Soil quality assessment on a northwest missouri organic farming enterprise [abstracts]. American Society of Agronomy. p. 245-1.
Technical Abstract: Organic production systems seek to produce foods of optimal nutritional quality while conserving and improving the soil resource and protecting environmental quality by using organic or natural resources without application of synthetic chemicals. Prairie Birthday Farm (PBF) is an organic farming enterprise established on gently sloping soils of Sharpsburg silt loam (Fine montmorillonitic, mesic Typic Argiudolls) in Clay County, Missouri, which was previously under conventional corn and soybean production. Transition to organic farming began in 1995 that included a primary management strategy to restore soil organic matter consisting of establishment of native prairie plants, and application of composted vegetative residues and litter from horse and laying hen operations. Assessment of soil quality - the ability of a soil to sustain plants and animals, resist degradation (erosion), and reduce negative impacts on water and air resources - can indicate the success of management systems to optimize soil productivity and to maintain its structural and biological integrity. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of organic management on biochemical characteristics of soil ('soil quality indicators') as an assessment of soil quality. Soils were collected at 0-10 cm depths from sites under organic production (orchard, vegetable, pasture) and from adjacent conventional fields during 2003 - 2006 and assessed for various soil quality parameters. Soil organic matter and water-stable soil aggregates were considerably increased in all organic sites. Soil biological activity measured as dehydrogenase and glucosamidase activities were also increased, indicating improved nutrient cycling for plant nutrition and for overall soil fertility. Results of soil quality assessments suggest that organic management can successfully restore productivity of silt loam soils previously under intensive conventional agriculture and maintain environmental quality without using synthetic chemical inputs. The system practiced at PBF illustrates how resources internal to the farm (i.e., composts) can be used to manage soil productivity.