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National Comparison of the Total and Sequestered Organic Matter Contents of Conventional and Organic Farm Soils

Sep 11, 2017

by Elham A. Ghabbour*, 1, Geoffrey Davies*, Tracy Misiewicz†, Reem A. Alami*, Erin M. Askounis*, Nicholas P. Cuozzo*, Alexia J. Filice*, Jennifer M. Haskell*, Andy K. Moy*, Alexandra C. Roach*,  Jessica Shade†

* National Soil Project, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, United States

† The Organic Center, Washington, DC, United States

New research by Northeastern University and The Organic Center proves organic agriculture keeps more carbon in soil and out of atmosphere


This study was featured on Civil Eats! Read the abstract of the study below, and view the full study in the peer-reviewed scientific publication, Advances in Agronomy.

Photo Credit: USDA



Intensive agriculture has been linked to declining soil fertility and is a known source of greenhouse gas emissions. Decline in soil organic matter (SOM) is of particular concern due to its key role in maintaining soil health. Previous research supports the view that fertility management practices utilized in organic agriculture can maintain and even grow the SOM pool, but fewer studies examine what proportion of SOM is sequestered over long periods of time. Using data from the National Soil Project SOM sequestration between soils from organically and conventionally managed farms from across the United States is compared. Total %SOM ranged from 0.63 to 46.1 for con- ventional farm samples (mean 7.37) and 0.5 to 88.9 for the organic samples (mean 8.33). %FA ranged from 0.08 to 2.20 (mean 0.26) for conventional and 0.04 to 14.8 (mean 0.65) organic farm soils. %HA ranged from 0.17 to 23.0 (mean 2.85) for con- ventional and 0.25 to 48.9 (mean 4.1) for organic samples. Mean %humification (i.e., sequestration) was 45.6 for conventional soils and 57.3 for organic. Results presented here support previous assertions that FA are the precursors of HA. With the exception of water retention, comparisons of SOM, FA, HA, and humification suggest that or- ganic farming practices support healthy soils and build and/or or maintain SOM more effectively than conventional farming practices. The data from this study can serve as benchmarks for other soils, and the spectroscopic analytical approaches employed should be useful in tracking the effects of changes in farm soil management practices over space and time.

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