American Journal of Alternative Agriculture

Articles

Comparison of soil properties as influenced by organic and conventional farming systems

John P. Reganolda1

a1 Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Soils, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164.

Abstract

This paper summarizes data from previous and current studies on two adjacent farms, one organically managed and the other conventionally managed, in the Palouse region of eastern Washington. The 320-hectare organic farm has been managed without the use of commercial fertilizers and only limited use of pesticides since the farm was first plowed in 1909. The 525-hectare conventional farm, first cultivated in 1908, began receiving recommended rates of commercial fertilizers and pesticides in 1948 and the early 1950's, respectively. The organically-farmed Naff silt loam soil had significantly higher organic matter, cation exchange capacity, total nitrogen, extractable potassium, water content, pH, polysaccharide content, enzyme levels, and microbial biomass than did the conventionally-farmed Naff soil. Also, the organically-farmed soil had significantly lower modulus of rupture, more granular structure, less hard and more friable consistence, and 16 centimeters more topsoil. This topsail difference between farms was attributed to significantly greater erosion on the conventionally-farmed soil between 1948 and 1985. The difference in erosion rates between farms was most probably due to their different crop rotation systems; Le., only the organic farm included a green manure crop in its rotation, and it had different tillage practices. These studies indicate that, in the long-term, the organic farming system was more effective than the conventional farming system in maintaining the tilth and productivity of the Naff soil and in reducing its loss to erosion.