Published: April 1, 2020

Category: Organic News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter

The Organic Center and University of Maryland spotlight organic farming practices that provide the biggest bang to soil health

Even with good things, there is the best of the best. So it is with organic agriculture. Organic farming techniques have long been proven to help foster and restore soil health, replenish soil organic carbon and preserve underground biodiversity. And some organic strategies provide a bigger bang for soil health than others.

Now a new study conducted by the University of Maryland in collaboration with The Organic Center—and supported by the GRO Organic research fund, Annie’s Homegrown of General Mills, and Patagonia—provides a big-picture understanding of the organic techniques that have the most impact on soil health. The review of more than 150 studies from around the world on the benefits of organic farming to soil health and climate change mitigation illuminates specific organic farming practices that are the best of the best in supporting healthy soils. The Organic Center highlights the main findings in their latest report here.

The study, published in the scientific journal Organic Agriculture, identifies four practices that are the most critical to good soil health:

  • Planting cover crops,
  • Applying combinations of organic inputs,
  • Increasing crop rotation diversity and length, and
  • Conservation tillage.

“One of the strengths of organic is that it is always striving toward improvement. This project captures that spirit, because it leverages current research to better understand the practices within organic that maximize the benefits to soil health,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center. “This scaffolding provides a useful roadmap on the most effective strategies that can be used by farmers—both organic and non-organic—to foster healthy soils, and on what areas that can be leveraged by research to support long-term agricultural sustainability across the board.”

Healthy soils are essential for resilient crop production and supporting the ecosystem. They retain water, support a diversity of organisms vital to decomposition and nutrient cycling, provide crops with essential nutrients, and store away carbon, helping to mitigate global climate change. The growing demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel cannot be met without healthy soils.

“Soils in the United States are being degraded by unsustainable agricultural practices, but techniques used by organic farmers can help stop soil health degradation, and even restore soil health in previously degraded soils,” said researcher and study author Dr. Kate Tully. “However, the specific impacts of organic practices on soil health are not well understood. This study compares strategies within organic systems to understand where the benefits from organic farming arise, and how they can be maximized.”

Source: Organic Center

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