, Volume 291, Issue 1-2, pp 311-321
Date: 08 Feb 2007

Organic N and particulate organic matter fractions in organic and conventional farming systems with a history of manure application

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Indicators of soil fertility are needed for the effective management of organic farming systems. Sustainable management hinges upon our gaining an improved understanding of C and N dynamics. The influence of cropping systems and amendments applied in the Lakeland Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial on total hydrolyzable organic N (THN) fractions and particulate organic matter (POM) was investigated after a decade in a conventional cash grain system (Conv) of continuous maize amended with inorganic fertilizer, an organic cash-grain system (Org-CG) that relied on legume N, and an organic animal-based system (Org-AN) that included alfalfa and manure additions. Maize yields had consistently ranked Org-CG < Conv < Org-AN. The THN and amino acid-N (AA-N) contents were ranked Org-AN > Org-CG > Conv. Amino sugar-N (AS-N) contents, which reflect microbially derived N, did not differ among systems and concentrations were quite high (346.5 mg AS-N/kg soil in the 0–50 cm depth). This, and soil variability were attributed to the sites’ history of manure application. The amount (1.3 g POM-C/kg soil) and proportion (≈7.5% of total SOC) of POM-C were quite low and did not differ among systems. Failure to accumulate SOC or POM in these soils, even under organic management, is attributed to rapid C decay and/or limited root growth. An N rate study was added the fall before samples were taken and N addition did increase yield in the Conv and Org-CG systems despite evidence of soil N surplus. This suggests that either amino N is unavailable to plants or that root N acquisition is limited by other constraints. Low POM-C contents accompanied by high AS-N and AA-N levels reveal an imbalance in these soils which are likely to be C limited. Based on this, we conclude excess N has prevented use of organic practices from enhancing soil quality at this site.