Submission Date


Document Type

Paper- Restricted to Campus Access




Denise Finney

Committee Member

Denise Finney

Committee Member

Cory Straub

Committee Member

Ryan Walvoord

Department Chair

Beth Bailey

Project Description

Healthy soil can produce quality food and preserve the environment. While some farming practices have degraded the soil on agricultural land, others have shown to enhance soil health. The goal of this investigation is to compare soil health among organic and conventional production systems employing different tillage regimes. Soil samples from the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA, were obtained from their Vegetable Systems Trial which includes organic or conventional production systems utilizing both conventional tillage and reduced tillage regimes. This study focused on organic matter concentrations, nutrient holding capacity, microbial activity and microbe functional diversity of soil samples. No significant difference was observed for either production system or tillage for organic matter content and nutrient holding in 2017. In 2018, the organic system showed more organic matter (P=0.0002) and nitrogen availability (P=0.0017) than the conventional system. The results obtained through the first two years of study suggest that organic matter additions have a positive influence on soil health regardless of the tillage regime. Reduced tillage regimes proved to have higher organic matter (P=0.0421) and nutrient holding (P=0.0017) compared to conventional tillage regimes in June 2018. No effect of system or tillage was observed on microbial activity. The organic reduced tillage treatment tended to have the greatest organic matter and nutrient retention. The organic reduced tillage treatment had a more functionally diverse microbial community than the conventional black plastic treatment (P=0.0007). Therefore, we conclude that management which included an organic system with reduced tillage would benefit soil both chemically and biologically.


Research carried out in collaboration with the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA.