Organic Farming Beats No-Till?
By Don Comis
July 10, 2007
Organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than
conventional no-till farming can, according to a long-term study by
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Researchers made this discovery during a nine-year study at the Henry
A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC),
Beltsville, Md. BARC is operated by ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.
Teasdale, with the
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, was surprised to
find that organic farming was a better soil builder than no-till. No-till has
always been thought to be the best soil builder because it eliminates plowing
and minimizes even light tillage to avoid damaging organic matter and exposing
the soil to erosion.
Organic farming, despite its emphasis on building organic matter, was
thought to actually endanger soil because it relies on tillage and
cultivationinstead of herbicidesto kill weeds.
But Teasdale's study showed that organic farming's addition of organic
matter in manure and cover crops more than offset losses from tillage.
From 1994 to 2002, Teasdale compared light-tillage organic corn,
soybean and wheat with the same crops grown with no-till plus pesticides and
In a follow-up three-year study, Teasdale grew corn with no-till
practices on all plots to see which ones had the most-productive soils. He
found that the organic plots had more carbon and nitrogen and yielded 18
percent more corn than the other plots did.
about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research