2019 journal article

Comparing Four Methods of Measuring Soil Organic Matter in North Carolina Soils


By: W. Roper n, W. Robarge n, D. Osmond n & J. Heitman n

UN Sustainable Development Goal Categories
2. Zero Hunger (Web of Science)
13. Climate Action (Web of Science)
15. Life on Land (Web of Science)
Source: Web Of Science
Added: June 17, 2019

Core Ideas Results of agronomic management effects on SOM are inconsistent among methods. Correlations among methods of measuring SOM differ depending on soil. Soil organic matter content should be compared using similar procedures. Soil organic matter (SOM) provides many beneficial soil ecosystem services for sustainable soil management, but it is unclear how results from different methods of measuring SOM should be compared when making soil management decisions. To compare different methods, we used 84 soil samples from long‐term agronomic trials in the coastal plain, piedmont, and mountain regions of North Carolina. Coastal plain and mountain trials included combinations of tillage and management (conventional vs. organic), whereas piedmont trials were configured to evaluate tillage intensity. The methods used to measure SOM were Walkley‐Black (WB), mass loss on ignition (LOI), automated dry combustion (ADC), and humic matter (HM) colorimetry. Correlations among LOI, WB, and ADC were significant (p < 0.0001) for SOM measured from the total population of soils, but variability due to location implied that HM had no correlation to other methods. For measures of soil organic carbon compared to SOM, the WB results were biased high compared to ADC, and ADC was more strongly correlated to LOI than WB. When using the methods to evaluate the effects of agronomic management on SOM, results varied for different methods and locations. Conservation management did not consistently accumulate more SOM than other soil management practices, and no method consistently differentiated soils based on management. Variation in the composition of SOM measured using conventional methods may be causing discrepancies in reported changes in SOM content over time. To avoid confusion about how agronomic management affects SOM, assessments should limit comparisons to methodologies with similar measurement protocols.