Activity 27

Soil Health in Organic Tillage-based Systems


Project Introduction

Maintaining soil organic matter and promoting overall soil health is a key principle of organic farming systems. At the same time, organic crop production systems relies on the regular return to soil of crop residues and organic amendments to supply nutrients, through decomposition of these residues, to the following cash crop. Tillage of the soil thus continues to plays a key role in organic crop production systems in Eastern Canada. While there has been some success in development of organic no-till systems, in Eastern Canada success has been variable and adoption by organic farmers has been slow. However, the ability of organic cropping systems to sustain soil organic matter and soil health may vary with the intensity of tillage use, and the length and type of crop rotations on organic farms, plus other beneficial practices such as use of organic amendments or green manure crops.

The proposed research, to be led by Drs. Lynch (Dalhousie University) and Halde (Université Laval), will be conducted on twelve commercial organic grains farms and a replicated research trial in Quebec. The work will directly address a key issue for organic cropping systems: how tillage management, and intensity of tillage use, influences the potential trade-offs between cash crop yields and maintenance of ecosystem services. Specifically, over four years, the research will determine how to sustain soil organic C and improve soil health within intensive organic grain cropping systems. Soil health assessment will involve comprehensive analyses of soil physical, chemical and biological properties in each phase of the rotation, during each year of the project, on all twelve farms.

The research will directly address priority research areas for the Organic sector in Canada by increasing competitiveness through improvements in farm productivity, and production system stability and resiliency, and by advancing public good through characterization and improvement of ecosystem services, including soil carbon sequestration and soil health. By combining close engagement by diverse industry partners, (individual farmers and a national industry partner) along with a strong collaborating team of provincial extension personnel, the research will accelerate the pace of innovation in organic field crop production, leading to enhanced economic growth and competitiveness. Improving cost-efficiency and sustainability of Canadian organic production will have immediate and long-term economic benefits for the sector.

Final Report Summary

The primary focus of this research project was to examine the status of, and how to improve, soil health under intensive or tillage-based organic cropping systems.   Specifically, the objective was to compare the relative impacts on cash crop yield, N supply, soil carbon and soil health of organic grain cropping systems, and to examine the relative impacts of different best management practices (BMPs), (manure/compost application, fall cover crops, modified tillage regime) in sustaining soil carbon and soil health... 

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Activity Researchers

Name Organization/Location
Dr. Derek Lynch (Activity Leader) Dalhousie University, Truro NS
Dr. Caroline Halde Université Laval, Québec QC
Field extension specialists from CETAB+ , MAPAQ, and CRAAQ Centre d’expertise et de transfert en agriculture biologique et de proximité (CETAB), QC; Quebec Ministry of Agriculture (MAPAQ); Le Centre de référence en agriculture et agroalimentaire du Québec (CRAAQ)
Nicole Boudreau Organic Federation of Canada (


Contributing partners

Grower participants

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada