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Soil Health in Organic Farms

Sep 09, 2013

Professor Geoffrey Davies and Principal Research Scientist Elham Ghabbour

Directed by Principal Research Scientist Elham Ghabbour and Professor Geoffrey Davies, the National Soil Project (NSP) at Northeastern University is collaborating with The Organic Center to examine some of the benefits organic agriculture may have on soil health.  We are also working with the Rodale Institute and OFRF on soil health communication.  Specifically, this project will quantify the amount of sequestered carbon in organic farm top soil samples for comparison with corresponding conventional samples to determine differences in levels of humic acids (HA), fulvic acids (FA), and humin (HU) in the soils. These efforts will result in a reference database that will enable agronomists, farmers and environmental scientists to correlate soil health and productivity with agricultural practices, which will be an essential tool for maintaining and improving the quality of our nation’s soil through organic farming.

Healthy, productive soils are a treasured resource that we often take for granted. Long-lived HA, FA and HU represent the sequestered carbon content of a soil. They are components of the microbially-resistant soil organic matter (OM), and are essential because they help to retain water, act as soil buffers, improve soil texture/permeability, regulate our climate, and support many other healthy soil functions. Unfortunately, soil OM is under threat:  massive quantities of mineral fertilizers used in conventional farming destroy OM, degrade the land and additionally pollute the water by run-off. The long-term health of the soil is jeopardized by this widespread soil management practice, emphasizing the importance of organic management for the long-term health of soils.

Scanning electron micrograph of solid humic acid

Scanning electron micrograph of solid humic acid

The primary objective of this project is to collect and analyze organic farm top soils from all 50 US States for comparison with conventional samples. Our secondary objectives include continuing to educate the public at large about the equal importance of safe air, soil and water, introducing our conventional and organic soil database as a reference tool to relevant organizations, and developing standards for regulation of commercial humic products and arable land assessment. 

We anticipate that the results of our efforts will be significant in academia and in their practical application in organic farming. The NSP database will be an invaluable tool for scientific investigations, including the study of relationships between OM, HA, FA and dissolved organic carbon contents, and for modeling the global carbon cycle.  Furthermore, our data will be directly useful to organic farmers, who rely on soil quality, through bench-marking that will facilitate remediation, maintenance and conservation of soil resources.  Additionally, HA measurements are important for the regulation of errant soil remediation products that are now on the market.


We Need Your Help!

Fractionated sequestered carbon

Fractionated sequestered carbon in Dr. Davies and Dr. Ghabbour’s lab

The NSP needs more samples from organic farms throughout the US!  If you own or have access to an organic farm, please send 2 oz (50 g) of air-dried agricultural top soil samples to NSP. Parcel post will be reimbursed on request.

Please submit a filled-out Sample Reply Form with each sample.

Contact g.davies@neu.edu or e.ghabbour@neu.edu and check the website www.neu.edu/hagroup for updates on your samples.

The project results will be published and shared with soil donors on request. Your participation will make this project possible and is greatly appreciated!


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