Effects of organic versus conventional arable farming on soil structure and organic matter dynamics in a marine loam in the Netherlands

Pulleman, M.M.; Jongmans, A.G.; Marinissen, J.C.Y.; Bouma, J.


We compared the effects of conventional and organic arable farming on soil organic matter (SOM) content, soil structure, aggregate stability and C and N mineralization, which are considered important factors in defining sustainable land management. Within one soil series, three different farming systems were selected, including a conventional and an organic arable system and permanent pasture without tillage. The old pasture represents optimal conditions in terms of soil structure and organic matter inputs and is characterized by high earthworm activity. More than 70 years of different management has caused significant differences in soil properties. SOM content, mineralization, earthworm activity and water-stable aggregation decreased as a result of tillage and arable cropping when compared with pasture, but were significantly greater under organic farming than under conventional farming. Total SOM contents between 0 and 20 cm depth amounted to 15, 24 and 46 g kg(-1) for the conventional arable, organic arable and permanent pasture fields, respectively. Although less sensitive to slaking than the conventionally managed field, the soil under organic farming was susceptible to compaction when high pressures were exerted on the soil under wet conditions. The beneficial effects of organic farming are generally associated with soil biochemical properties, but soil physical aspects should also be considered. Depending on soil type and climate, organic farmers need to be careful not to destroy the soil structure, so that they can enjoy maximum advantage from their organic farming systems.