Soil organic matter is a mixture of organic materials in different biological, chemical, and physical states. Read more.
- Active organic matter fuels biological activity and is observed to correlate with nutrient supply.
- Stable organic matter contributes to soil structure and porosity.
Biological activity in the root zone is the driving force behind organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Regular additions of fresh organic inputs maintain a balance between partially decomposed, active organic matter and more fully decomposed, stable organic matter. Read More.
Sustained biological activity and fresh organic matter add value
- Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is increased. Nutrient supply and uptake is increased. Read More
- Organic molecules and organisms provide temporary slow release storage for nutrients such as N and P and sequester large amounts of Carbon. Read More
- Porosity is increased to maximize air and water storage. Glomulin produced by microbes holds soil aggregates together. Read More
Management practices can induce changes in soil biological and physical quality. Increased soil carbon, nitrogen, and microbial biomass has been observed under systems that practice conservation and/or reduced tillage and use organic fertilizers such as manure and crop residues. Read more.
Tillage Frequency on Labile C & N
Angers et al., 1999, (% of control)
KNWSA Tillage Trials 2015-2016
Revenue per acre ($)
Soil health is a long term investment. While there are observable short term gains, it may take up to 5 years before measurable productivity gains are evident.
- Biological processes are disrupted more easily than they are built.
- Economically significant nutrient gains may take years to establish as a result.
- Improved soil structure is dependent on sustained biological processes.
Alam, M. Z, Lynch, D.H, Sharifi, M., Burton, D. L. & Hammermeister, A. M. (2016): The effect of green manure and organic amendments on potato yield, nitrogen uptake and soil mineral nitrogen, Biological Agriculture & Horticulture.
This research examined organic nutrient sources and crop sequences in an organic potato rotation. There were no significant yield increases associated with any one rotation and it was concluded that rotational effects on yield would have to be studied over longer periods of time. Municipal solid food waste and paper mill biosolid amendments did significantly increase yields.
Angers, D. A., Edwards, L. M., Sanderson, J. B., & Bissonnette, N. (1999). Soil organic matter quality and aggregate stability under eight potato cropping sequences in a fine sandy loam of Prince Edward Island.Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 79(3), 411-417.
This research was conducted on Prince Edward Island in 1999 and focused specifically on potato production. It found that tillage frequency and rotation length affected soil quality, especially for labile organic Carbon and Nitrogen fractions. Aggregate stability followed a similar pattern but was less pronounced than soil organic matter (SOM) Carbon and Nitrogen fractions. Under longer rotations with 30-40% potato frequency (and associated intensive tillage), soil quality and SOM content was higher.
Angers, D. A., N'dayegamiye, A., & Cote, D. (1993). Tillage-induced differences in organic matter of particle-size fractions and microbial biomass. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 57(2), 512-516.
This research observed that even in cropping systems that returned little biomass back to the soil that reduced tillage can maintain or increase the labile, or active, fractions of organic matter.
Burton, Zebarth, Styles (2016, March). Developing a soil nitrogen test for potato production in Prince Edward Island. Data presented at the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association Annual Conference, Summerside, PE.
Data collected on Prince Edward Island show substantial variation in soil nitrogen supply across regions and and farms. Potentially mineralizable N ranged from approximately 95kgha-200kg/ha and actual, mineralized N ranged from 30kg/ha - 110kg/ha.
Cornell University Cooperative Extension. (2007). Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC).
This fact sheet explains Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) in detail and the gains in CEC associated with increasing organic matter.
Cornell University Cooperative Extension. (2008). Soil Organic Matter.
This fact sheet explains the composition of organic matter and the various chemical, physical, and biological benefits it provides.
Cornell University. (2016). Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health. http://www.css.cornell.edu/extension/soil-health/manual.pdf
This is the free online version of the Cornell Soil Health manual. This manual provides explanations of key soil health parameters and how they are measured using Cornell Soil Health testing.
Culman, S. W., Snapp, S. S., Freeman, M. A., Schipanski, M. E., Beniston, J., Lal, R., ... & Lee, J. (2012). Permanganate oxidizable carbon reflects a processed soil fraction that is sensitive to management. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 76(2), 494-504.
This paper finds that permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC), or active carbon, is a measurable fraction of organic matter that responds to management. This is the metric for active carbon used in the Cornell Soil Health test.
Dessureault-Rompré, J., Zebarth, B. J., Burton, D. L., & Georgallas, A. (2015). Predicting soil nitrogen supply from soil properties. Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 95(1), 63-75.
This research presents Eastern Canadian data on soil supplied nitrogen and confirms that soil N supply can be predicted by soil properties. The average soil N supply at the 0-15cm depth was 70kg/ha and varied over a similar range to what Burton, Styles, and Zebarth have found of Prince Edward Island.
Kay, B. D., & VandenBygaart, A. J. (2002). Conservation tillage and depth stratification of porosity and soil organic matter. Soil and Tillage Research, 66(2), 107-118.
This paper reviews literature on tillage induced changes in physical soil properties such as bulk density and porosity. Comparisons between conventional and no-till are reported on.
Nyiraneza, Judith, et al. Dairy cattle manure improves soil productivity in low residue rotation systems. Agronomy journal 101.1 (2009): 207-214.
This study compared soil with long term manure use (28 yrs) to soil that had no history of manure. Long term manure application significantly increased potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) and preseeding N03-N levels. Water stable macroaggregates were also significantly higher with than without manure. It is concluded mineral NPK alone is not sufficienct to maintain or increase soil nutrient status or soil quality.
Ros, G. H., Hanegraaf, M. C., Hoffland, E., & van Riemsdijk, W. H. (2011). Predicting soil N mineralization: Relevance of organic matter fractions and soil properties. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 43(8), 1714-1722.
This research finds that various pools of organic matter—hot water extractable Carbon (HWC) and extractable organic Carbon (EOC)—explain soil mineralizable Nitrogen when combined in a multivariate analysis, indiciating that increases in total OM and EOM are associated with increases in mineralizable N.
Sharifi, M., Zebarth, B. J., Burton, D. L., Grant, C. A., & Porter, G. A. (2008). Organic amendment history and crop rotation effects on soil nitrogen mineralization potential and soil nitrogen supply in a potato cropping system. Agronomy journal, 100(6), 1562-1572.
This research finds that organic amendments can increase the soil N supply potential by up to 35%. Managmement induced changes were detected by several indicators of soil N supply.
Schjonning, P., Munkholm, L. J., Elmholt, S and Olesen, E. 2007. Organic matter and soil tilth in arable farming: Management makes a difference within 5-6 years. Agric. Ecosys. Environ. 122:157172.
This research concludes that as little as 5-6 years of differentiated soil management significantly affect soil organic carbon fractions, soil structure, and the growth of fungal hyphae. Macroporosity was significantly higher in a cereal rotation that included a grass/clover green manure than it was for a cereal dominated rotation with no manure and a cereal dominated rotation with manure. Both cereal + grass and cereal + manure rotations resisted compaction better.
Soon, Y. K. and Clayton, G. W. 2002. Eight years of crop rotation and tillage effects on crop production and N fertilizer use. Can. J. Soil Sci. 82: 165172.
Western Canadian study on a sandy loam soil. Looked at multiple types of rotation over 2 4 year rotation cycles, finding that it wasn’t until the second rotation cycle that the effects of a no-till (NT) system resulted in a decrease in fertilizer requirement and 22% higher wheat yields. This was related to reduced tillage and diversified rotational crops.
St. Luce, M., Ziadi, N., Zebarth, B. J., Whalen, J. K., Grant, C. A., Gregorich, E, G., Lafond, P., Blackshaw, R. E., Johnson, E. N., O’Donovan, J. T. and Harker, K. N. 2013. Particulate organic matter and soil mineral nitrogen concentrations are good predictors of the soil nitrogen supply to canola following legume and non-legume crops in western Canada. Can. J. Soil Sci. 93: 607-620.
This paper reports that particulate organic matter (POMN) may be a good predictors of Soil N. Because research was conducted on Western Canadian soils, mineral N was also found to explain variation in Soil N but this would not apply in Eastern Canada. The study reports values for potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) ranging from 40-140 mg/Kg which highlights the opportunity for increased nutrient use efficiency in developing reliable predictors of soil nitrogen producing potential.
Thomas, B. W., Whalen, J. K., Sharifi, M., Chantigny, M., & Zebarth, B. J. (2015). Labile organic matter fractions as early‐season nitrogen supply indicators in manure‐amended soils. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science. Chicago.
This research focuses on the labile (active) fractions of soil organic matter, finding that particulate organic matter (POM) and hot water extractable organic matter (Hot-WEOM), a smaller labile pool, are good early season indicators of soil N supply in both sandy loam and silty clay soils of the St. Lawrence River lowlands in Quebec.
Vos, J. (2009). Nitrogen responses and nitrogen management in potato. Potato research, 52(4), 305-317.
This paper provides some nitrogen response curves for potato and discusses the challenge of maximizing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). It also discusses light interception and maximum yield as considerations in matching nitrogen fertilizer to crop uptake.
Zebarth, B. J., Leclerc, Y., & Moreau, G. (2004). Rate and timing of nitrogen fertilization of Russet Burbank potato: Nitrogen use efficiency. Canadian journal of plant science, 84(3), 845-854.
This research reports on the nitrogen use efficiency of Russet Burbank potatoes. At moderate levels of inorganic fertilization (120-160 kg/ha), nitrogen use efficiency was 50%.