Understanding the Two Sides to Soil Organic Matter Can Help Us Improve Soil Health

This story comes to us from Anne Manning at Colorado State University. It's helpful to our community because it gives us a better understanding of what is going on in the soil beneath our feet as we work to improve soil health. It turns out there are two different kinds of soil organic matter - one that moves through the system and one that is more permanent. When combined with our recent article about the discovery of how to keep carbon in the soil we can see that when we manage grazing to provide for diversity we're doing very important work! Soil organic matter -- made of decomposing plant, animal and microbial tissue -- is what distinguishes healthy, vibrant soil from just plain dirt. Making up about 3% of productive agricultural soils, soil organic matter is an effective "carbon sink" that can store the carbon dioxide plants pull from the atmosphere. Employing soils as vast carbon sinks is considered a key strategy in improving soil health and combating climate change. Accruing soil organic matter effectively and sustainably requires a deeper understanding of its formation, persistence and function. And according to Colorado State University scientists, not all soil organic matter is created equal. On the left is cambisol, a type of grassland soil, and on the r

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2 thoughts on “Understanding the Two Sides to Soil Organic Matter Can Help Us Improve Soil Health

  1. This is a fancier way of describing soil organic matter than what Fred Magdoff, emeritus professor at the University of Vermont, more-colorfully categorized as “living” (micro-organisms and plants), “dead” (= particulate organic matter), and “very dead” (= mineral-associated organic matter).

  2. I wonder if “wet spots” in flood irrigated fields work the same way as the forest?
    The cattle don’t like to eat the “slew” grass and it just grows up, dies and the process repeats year-after-year. When you dig into it, it appears somewhat like the forest soil picture.

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