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- Author or Editor: Curt Richard Rom x
The highly weathered, mineral, and often eroded and acidic soils of the Ozark Highlands region of northwest Arkansas generally have low soil organic matter (SOM) concentrations as a result of rapid organic matter turnover rates in the warm, moist climate. Orchard management practices that can improve SOM may also improve other soil quality-related variables for sustained production, which is an explicit goal for the National Organic Program (NOP). Therefore, beginning in Mar. 2006 and continuing for seven seasons, annual applications of municipal green compost, shredded office paper, wood chips, and mow-blow grass mulch groundcover management systems (GMS) in combination with composted poultry litter, commercial organic fertilizer, or a non-fertilized control as a nutrient source were implemented to evaluate their ability to alter near-surface soil quality in a newly established, organically managed apple orchard in the Ozark Highlands region of northwest Arkansas. The SOM concentration in the top 10 cm averaged 1.5% across all treatments at orchard establishment in 2006, but by 2012, SOM concentration had increased in all GMS and more than doubled to 5.6% under green compost. Similarly, soil bulk density in the top 6 cm, which averaged 1.34 g·cm−3 among treatment combinations in 2006, decreased in all GMS by 2012. Either green compost or shredded paper had the largest concentration of total water-stable aggregates across all aggregate size classes in the top 7.5 cm, whereas no differences among GMS were observed in the 7.5- to 15-cm soil depth. Green compost applied alone or in combination with commercial fertilizer had the largest estimated plant-available water (17.9% v/v) among all treatment combinations. Many soil quality-related variables measured in the various organic GMS had numerically greater values compared with an adjacent conventionally managed orchard on the same soils. Implementation of these GMS appears to provide apple producers in the Ozark Highlands and similar regions a tangible means of meeting NOP requirements for improving soil quality concurrent with production of certified organic crops. The findings also have implications for conventionally managed orchards, which have maintaining or improving soil quality as a management goal.