Plant and Soil

, Volume 423, Issue 1–2, pp 363–373 | Cite as

Direct effects of soil organic matter on productivity mirror those observed with organic amendments

  • Emily E. OldfieldEmail author
  • Stephen A. Wood
  • Mark A. Bradford
Regular Article



Organic amendments to arable soil build soil organic matter (SOM), which can increase crop yields. However, organic amendments can influence crop yields independently of SOM by providing nutrients directly to plants. The relative importance of native organic matter versus organic amendments is not well quantified. We experimentally manipulated both organic amendments and native SOM concentrations to quantify their relative importance to crop yields.


We created OM concentration gradients by (1) diluting an organic-rich A-horizon with a mineral base and (2) amending compost to the same mineral base, generating OM concentrations for both treatments of approximately 2, 4 and 8%. We grew buckwheat and measured plant productivity and a range of soil fertility variables.


Higher concentrations of OM, whether native or amended, were associated with higher soil water holding capacity and nutrients, and improved soil structure. Consequently, increases in both native and amended OM were associated with strong positive but saturating impacts on productivity, though amendment effects were greater.


Our results suggest that native SOM can support productivity levels comparable to those observed with organic amendments. Although our quantitative findings will likely vary for different soils and amendments, our results lend support to the idea that SOM stocks directly increase productivity.


Crop productivity Crop yield Soil health Soil organic carbon Soil organic matter Soil quality Sustainable agriculture 



Thanks to Jeremy Oldfield of the Yale Sustainable Food Program for helping to facilitate this research; and to Rachel McMonagle, Sanna O’Connor-Morberg, and Leehi Yona for lab assistance. This work was funded by a grant to EEO from the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3513_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily E. Oldfield
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen A. Wood
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark A. Bradford
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.The Nature ConservancyArlingtonUSA

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