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The influence of organic transition strategy on chemical and biological soil tests
Carmen M. Ugarte and Michelle M. Wander
Renewable Ag and Food Systems doi:10.1017/S1742170511000573

Soil testing strategies that include biologically based indicators in organic and alternative farming systems are needed in
order to improve recommendations that balance production and environmental goals. In this study, soil samples were
collected before and after soils were transitioned from conventional row crop production to organic management using rotations that varied in both their inputs and tillage intensity. Ley-, row crop- and vegetable-based farming systems were implemented using locally specific production practices. Subplots were imposed within each system to allow comparison of farming systems without amendment and with dairy manure- and compost-amendment. Soil analyses included standard chemical tests (0–15cm) for available phosphorus, exchangeable potassium, calcium, magnesium, pH, total
organic carbon (SOC) and total nitrogen (TN). Biological assays (0–15 and 15–30cm) included particulate organic matter-C and -N (POM-C, POM-N), soil and POM C:N ratios, fluorescein diacetate (FDA) hydrolysis, potentially
mineralizable N (PMN) and hydrolysable amino-N+NH4 (IL-N). Even though cropping and tillage intensity varied among systems (ley concentrations tested medium to high, even without compost or manure application. Labile fractions of soil organic matter were more enriched in the deeper sampling depth; whereby, POM stocks within the 15–30cm depth increased by
20% on average compared to roughly 6% in the surface depth. This and observed changes in other properties demonstrate
the multiple benefits derived from use of winter annual or perennial crops. Results from our analyses suggested PMN and POM have particular promise as metrics of change in commercial soil testing facilities to assist recommendations for amendments to balance production and environmental goals.


  • Wander, M.M., S.J. Traina, R.B. Stinner, and S.E. Peters.  1994.  Organic and conventional management effects on biologically active soil organic matter pools.  Soil Science Society of America Journal. 58:1130-1139.
  • Wander, M.M., D.S. Hedrick, D. Kaufman, S.J. Traina, B.R. Stinner, S.R. Kehrmeyer, and D.C. White.  1995.  The functional significance of the microbial biomass in organic and conventionally managed soils.  Plant and Soil 170:87-97.
  • Shennan, C., S.R. Grattan, D.M. May, C.J. Hillhouse, D.P. Schactman, M. Wander, B. Roberts, S. Tafoya, R.G. Burau, C. McNeish, and L. Zelinski.  1995.  Feasibility of cyclic reuse of saline drainage in a tomato-cotton rotation.  Journal of Environmental Quality 24:476-486.
  • Wander, M.M., D.V. McCracken, L.M. Shuman, J.W. Johnson, and J.E. Box, Jr. 1995.  Anion-exchange membranes used to assess management impacts on soil nitrate.  Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 26:2383-2390.
  • Wander, M.M., L.M. Shuman, and R.B. Pitts.  1995.  Monitoring nitrate in soils with coated wire ion specific electrodes.  Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 26:2391-2401.
  • Shuman, L.M., M.M. Wander, and R.B. Pitts.  1996.  An inexpensive silver-silver chloride reference electrode.  Agronomy Journal 88:246-249.
  • Wander, M.M. and S.J. Traina.  1996.  Organic matter fractions from organically and conventionally managed soils:  I. Carbon and nitrogen distribution.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 60:1081-1087.
  • Wander, M.M. and S.J. Traina.  1996.  Organic matter fractions from organically and conventionally managed soils:  II.  Characterization of composition.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 60:1087-1094.
  • Wander, M.M., R.B. Dudley, S.J. Traina, D. Kaufman, B.R. Stinner, and G.K. Sims.  1996.  Acetate fate in organic and conventionally managed soils.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 60:1110-1116.
  • Walter, G., M.M. Wander, and G. Bollero.  1997.  A farmer-centered approach to developing information for soil resource management: The Illinois Soil Quality Initiative. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 12:64-72.
  • Wander, M.M., M.G. Bidart, and S. Aref.  1998.  Tillage impacts on depth distribution of total and particulate organic matter in three Illinois soils.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 62:1704-1711.
  • Yang, X. and M.M. Wander.  1998.  Temporal changes in dry aggregate size and stability: tillage and crop effects on a silty loam Mollisol in Illinois.  Soil and Tillage Research 49:173-183.
  • Wander, M.M. and G.A. Bollero.  1999.  Soil quality assessment of tillage impacts in Illinois.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 63:961-971.
  • Hussain, I., K.R. Olson, M.M. Wander, and D.L. Karlen.  1999.  Adaptation of soil quality indices and application to three tillage systems in southern Illinois.  Soil and Tillage Research 50:237-249.
  • Needelman, B.A., M.M. Wander, G.A. Bollero, C.W. Boast, G.K. Sims, and D.G. Bullock.  1999.  Interaction of tillage and soil texture: biologically active soil organic matter in Illinois.  Soil Science Society of America Journal 63:1326-1334.
  • Yang, X.M. and M.M. Wander.  1999.  Tillage effects on soil organic carbon distribution and estimation of C storage.  Soil and Tillage Research 52:1-9.
  • Wander, M.M. and L.E. Drinkwater.  2000.  Fostering soil stewardship through soil quality assessment. Applied Soil Ecology. 15:61-73.
  • Wander, M.M. and X.M. Yang.  2000. Influence of tillage on the dynamics of loose-, occluded- particulate and humified organic matter fractions.  Soil Biology and Biochemistry 32:1151-1160.
  • Tor,  J.M., Xu, C., Stucki, J.M., Wander, M.M., and G.K. Sims.  2000.  Triflralin degradation under microbially induced nitrate and Fe(III) reducing conditions.  Environmental Science and Technology.  34:3148-3152.
  • Wander, M.M. and G.M Bidart.  2000.  Tillage practice influences on the physical protection, bioavailability and composition of particulate organic matter.  Biology and Fertility of Soils. 32:360-367.
  • Needelman, B.A., Wander, M.M., and G.S. Shi.  2001. Extraction Efficiency in the  Chloroform Fumigation-Extraction Method.  Soil Science Society of America.  65:1731-1733.
  • Wander, M.M., Walter, G., Nissen, T.M., Bollero, G.A., Andrews, S.S., and D. Cavanaugh-Grant. 2002. Soil quality: Science and process.  2001. Agronomy Journal. 96:23-33.
  • Bird, S.B., Herrick, J.E., Wander M.M, and S.F. Wright.  2002.  Spatial heterogeneity of aggregate stability and soil carbon in semi-arid range lands.  Environmental Pollution.  111:445-455.
  • Sims, G.K. and M.M. Wander. 2002.  Proteolytic activity under nitrogen and sulfur limitation. Applied Soil Ecology. 568:1-5.
  • Nissen, T.M. and M.M.Wander.  2003. Management and soil-quality effects on fertilizer-use efficiency and leaching.  Soil Science Society of America Journal.  67:1524-1532.
  • Wander, M.M. and T.M. Nissen.  2004.  Value of soil organic carbon in agricultural lands.  Mitigation and Adaptation for Global Climate Change. 9:417-431.
  • Yoo, G. and M.M. Wander . 2006. Influence of conventional and no tillage practices on soil structural controls over C mineralization.  Soil Science Society of America Journal. 70:651-659.
  • Yoo, G., Nissen, T.M., and M.M. Wander. 2006. Use of physical properties to predict the effects of tillage practices on organic matter dynamics in three Illinois soils.  Journal of Environmental Quality. 35:576-583.
  • Yoo, G., Spomer L.A. and M.M. Wander. 2006. Regulation of carbon mineralization rates by soil structure and moisture.  2006. Geoderma. 135: 16-25.
  • Marriott, M.E. and M.M. Wander.  2006. Total and labile soil organic matter in organic farming systems.  Soil Science Society of America Journal.  70:950-959.
  • Marriott, M.E. and M.M. Wander. 2006. Using qualitative and quantitative differences in particulate organic matter to assess fertility in organic and conventional farming systems Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 38:1527-1536.
  • Wander M.M., Yun W., Goldstein W.A., Aref, S., and S.A. Khan. 2007. Organic N and particulate organic matter fractions in organic and conventional farming systems with a history of manure application.  Plant and Soil. 291:311-321
  • Yoo G. and M.M. Wander. 2008.  Aggregate turnover and sequestration of particulate and humified organic carbon in tilled and non-tilled systems.  Soil Science Society of America Journal. 72:670-676.
  • Peralta A.L. and M.M. Wander. 2008. Soil organic matter dynamics under soybean exposed to elevated [CO2]. Plant and Soil. 303:69-81.
  • Jeong S., Werth C.J., Wander, M.M., Kleineidam, S., Grathwohl, P. and B. Ligouis.  2008. The role of condensed carbonaceous materials on the sorption of hydrophobic organic contaminants in subsurface sediments.  Environmental Science and Technology. 48:1458-1462.
  • Nissen T., Rodriguez, V., and M. Wander. 2008 Sampling soybean roots: A comparison of excavation and coring methods.  Communications in Soil and Plant Analysis. 39:1875-1883.
  • Yang, X-M, Drury, C.F., Wander, M.M., and B.D. Kay. 2008. Evaluating the effect of tillage on carbon sequestration using the minimum detectable difference concept.  Pedosphere. 18:421–430.
  • Robertson G.P., Dale V.H., Doering O.C., Hamburg S.P., Melillo J.M., Wander M.M., Parton W., Adler P.R., Barney J.N., Cruse R.M., Duke C.S., Fearnside P.M., Follett R.F., Goldemberg J., Mladenoff D.J., Ojima D., Palmer M.W., Sharpley A., Wallace L., Weathers K.C., Wiens J.A., and W.W. Wilhelm.  2008.  Agriculture- sustainable biofuels redux. Science. 322:5898:49-50.
  • Coulter J.A., Nafziger E.D. and M.M. Wander. 2009. Soil organic matter response to crop rotation and nitrogen fertilization.  Agronomy Journal. 101:592-599.
  • Khanna, M. Önal H., Dhungana B., and M. Wander. 2010.  Economics of bioenergy crops for electricity generation: Implications for land use and greenhouse gases. Biomass and Bioenergy. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.11.031.
  • Witzling, L., M.Wander, and E. Phillips. 2011. Testing and educating on urban soil lead: A case of Chicago community gardens. The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development . doi:10.5304/jafscd.2010.012.015.
  • Yoo, G., Yang X. and M. Wander. 2011. Influence of soil aggregation on soil organic carbon sequestration: A preliminary model of SOC protection by aggregate dynamics.  Ecological Engineering.  In press.