Assessing the Impact of Organic Farming Practices on Building Drought Resistant Soil

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,346.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Pennsylvania
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Alain Plante
University of Pennsylvania


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, drought tolerance, no-till, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Encouraging best farming practices can create agro-ecosystems that are resilient to uncertainties such as droughts and extreme temperatures. Farm management practices that improve soil porosity, water retention, and organic matter are crucial for climate resiliency (Borron 2006; Dick 1992; Pretty 2008). At Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA the Farming System Trial (FST) is a long-running experiment established in 1981 which compares organic and conventional grain cropping management practices including tillage/no-tillage and nutrient inputs. During droughts, organically managed maize and soybean crop yield were significantly higher than conventionally managed ones (Lotter et al., 2003; Seidel et al., 2015). Properties that help determine the soil’s resistance to droughts such as soil water retention and hydraulic conductivity have not been analyzed at the FST (Rodale Institute, 2011). Quantifying soil drought resistance at the FST can provide unique insight into the impact of management practices on farmer resilience. The proposed project aims to evaluate water retention, hydraulic conductivity, and organic carbon-nitrogen in organic and conventional systems. In spring 2018, soil samples will be collected from 0-30 cm in 10 cm increments from FST plots and analyzed using the HYPROP/WP4C devices to determine water retention, KSAT to determine hydraulic conductivity, and dry-combustion to measure organic carbon nitrogen content. A statistical evaluation of the relationship between farm management practices and soil hydraulic properties will be conducted. The results will help farmers determine the most effective farm management practices that improve soil quality and build drought resistance.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objectives of the proposed project are:
    • Objective 1: Measure soil hydraulic conductivity and water retention properties in soil cores collected from six different organic and conventional crop management systems at the Rodale FST.
    • Objective 2: Assess soil organic carbon and nitrogen content in six different organic and conventional crop management systems at the Rodale FST.
    • Objective 3: Correlate soil organic carbon-nitrogen to hydraulic properties and determine the optimal practices that lead to drought resistance and improved water holding capacity.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.