A comparison of soil and water properties in organic and conventional farming systems in England

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Hathaway-Jenkins, L. J., Sakrabani, R., Pearce, B., Whitmore, A. P. and Godwin, R. J. 2011. A comparison of soil and water properties in organic and conventional farming systems in England. Soil Use and Management. 27 (2), pp. 133-142.

AuthorsHathaway-Jenkins, L. J., Sakrabani, R., Pearce, B., Whitmore, A. P. and Godwin, R. J.

Organic farming and improvements to agricultural sustainability are often seen as synonymous. However, an extensive European review demonstrated that in practice this is not always true. This study aims to compare the status of soil and water properties between separate fields managed in either an organic or a conventional manner. Soil samples were collected from 16 pairs of farms, throughout England, with both arable and grass fields within each pair on similar soil type. Chemical (nutrients, pesticides, herbicides) and physical (aggregate stability, field capacity, shear strength, soil organic matter, infiltration rates) soil properties were measured in four main soil texture classes in organic and conventional fields. The physical soil properties varied significantly between the different classes of texture and land use. The heavier textured soils have significantly higher soil organic carbon (SOC), aggregate stability and shear strength. The coarse-textured soils have significantly lower field capacity moisture contents. The grassland has a significantly higher level of SOC, field capacity moisture content, aggregate stability and soil shear strength. However, there were no significant differences between organic and conventional treatments for any of the soil physical properties measured. There were fewer traces of agrochemicals in the soil water from the organic fields compared with the conventionally managed fields. The conventional arable fields had higher levels of total inorganic nitrogen than the other land uses and treatments. There was evidence to show that infiltration rates were significantly higher on organically managed grassland soils (7.6 mm/h) than conventionally managed grassland (2.5 mm/h) with lower stocking rates. The results suggest that improved grassland management, whether organic or conventional, could reduce predicted runoff by 28%.

KeywordsSoil Science
Year of Publication2011
JournalSoil Use and Management
Journal citation27 (2), pp. 133-142
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1111/j.1475-2743.2011.00335.x
Open accessPublished as non-open access
EPSRC - Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
institute strategic programme grant on sustainable soil function
Funder project or codeSEF
Modelling soil physical and biogeochemical processes
Maintaining soil resilience and function for sustainable land management

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