In any agricultural production system, maintaining productive and healthy soil is the cornerstone of sustainable organic farming. And organic matter is the key to maintaining a healthy soil and amending a less perfect one.
Generally, organic matter is made up of animal, plant, and microbe residues—mostly from manure or cover crops—in different stages of decomposition. It is important to note that soil organic matter is generally non-uniform in nature and cannot be assigned a definite chemical or physical structure. It is present in soils under varying decomposition stages. Tree litter, plant and crop residue, livestock manure, different types of soil organisms and their by-products as well as human waste (to a lesser extent) all contribute to organic matter.
Some of the benefits of organic soil include:
• Proving food, energy, and enzymes to soil microbes, which in turn boost the growth and health of plants
• Storing essential plant nutrients that helps in supporting good yield and high quality crops
• They are catalysts for regulating various ecological functions in the soil, which include buffer the alkaline-acid balance in the soil, boosting the cation exchange capacity in the soil—significant in helping the soil store nutrients until they are required by the plants and microbes
• Boosting structure and moisture retention in the soil. Great soil structure boost drainage during rains and wet seasons while moisture retention is vital to plants during drought.
• Organic matter can also go a long way in helping the soil develop mycelia layer that serves to detoxify the soil from chemical and pesticides. This means that organic farmers in Northern California do not need to use pesticides or don’t need the same amount as other conventional framers because the richness of organic soil in Northern California actually provides some sort of natural protection to their plants ‘
Top practices that can boost soil organic matter levels
• Crop rotation: You should consider including cover crops to provide the soil with adequate soil cover which prevents soil erosion, evaporation, and runoff; legumes for green manure purposes; perennial grasses to boost above ground and below ground biomass; and plants or crops that can produce high levels of biomass
• Incorporating crop residue or straw
• Reducing tillage to lower soil carbon losses and to slow down the organic matter decomposition process
• Applying manure, carbon rich waste, and plant material
• Applying fertilizer on legumes and cover crops to produce more biomass
• Grazing as opposed to harvesting foliage
Generally, farming in organic soil has a plethora of benefits. It is also good to the environment as it is to the ultimate consumers.