Organic and synthetic fertility amendments influence soil microbial, physical and chemical properties on organic and conventional farms

Bulluck, L.R.I.I.I.; Brosius, M.; Evanylo, G.K.; Ristaino, J.B.

Applied Soil Ecology 19(2): 147-160


ISSN/ISBN: 0929-1393
DOI: 10.1016/s0929-1393(01)00187-1
Accession: 003871967

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Field experiments were conducted to examine the effects of organic and synthetic soil fertility amendments on soil microbial communities and soil physical and chemical properties at three organic and three conventional vegetable farms in Virginia and Maryland (USA) in 1996 and 1997. Two treatments, including either an alternative organic soil amendment (composted cotton-gin trash, composted yard waste, or cattle manure) or synthetic soil amendment (fertilizer) were applied to three replicated plots at each grower field location. Production history and time affected propagule densities of Trichoderma species which remained higher in soils from organic farms. Propagule densities of Trichoderma species, thermophilic microorganisms, and enteric bacteria were also detected in greater numbers in soils amended with alternative than synthetic amendments, whereas propagule densities of Phytophthora and Pythium species were lower in soils amended with alternative than synthetic fertility amendments. Concentrations of Ca, K, Mg, and Mn were higher in soils amended with alternative than synthetic fertility amendments. Canonical correlations and principle component analyses indicated significant correlation between these soil chemical factors and the biological communities. First-order canonical correlations were more negative in fields with a conventional history, and use of synthetic fertilizers, whereas canonical correlations were more positive in fields with a history of organic production and alternative soil amendments. In the first year, yields of maize or melon were not different in soil amended with either synthetic or organic amendments at four of six farms. In the second year, when all growers planted tomatoes, yields were higher on farms with a history of organic production, regardless of soil amendment type. Alternative fertility amendments, enhanced beneficial soil microorganisms reduced pathogen populations, increased soil organic matter, total carbon, and cation exchange capacity (CEC), and lowered bulk density thus improving soil quality.