Chapter 4

Soil Management on Organic Farms

National Organic Program Standard for Soil Management

The National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000), § 205.203, Soil Fertility and Crop Nutrient Management Practice Standard, does not define specific land practices that producers must use. But it does identify general soil management and environmental protection objectives. From these objectives, producers and the organic certifiers they work with must determine whether specific farming practices meet the NOP criteria.

Section 205.203(a) Manage Tillage and Cultivation Practices

Section 205.203(a) requires organic producers to manage soil fertility and crop nutrients in a way that maintains or improves soil organic matter content. This objective is achieved through crop rotations, growing cover crops and the application of plant and animal materials. Harvested nutrients are expected to be replaced by the recycling of organic matter. However, the applications must be made in a way that does not result in the contamination of crops, soil or water by plants, nutrients, heavy metals, or materials that are otherwise prohibited for organic production.

Section 205.203(b) Manage Crop Nutrients and Soil Fertility Practices

Section 205.203(b) states that fertility management in organic systems must involve, and rely on, biological processes. Section 205.203(b) does permit organic producers to use mined substances of low solubility, such as rock phosphate and greensand. However, this section stipulates that at least some crop nutrients be provided through crop management practices and the application of organic residues. 

Click on the following topics for more information on soil management on organic farms.