Organic matter in the soil on a farm: How to check it, why it matters

“Farmers are aware that soil organic matter is the foundation of sustainable agriculture,” says OARDC scientist Rafiq Islam, who recently co-developed a new way to calculate, then make sound decisions on, the organic matter levels in one’s soil. Should crop residue, which provides organic matter, be left on the field or sold?

Called the Lucas SOM (Soil Organic Matter) Calculator, the Excel-based tool predicts the soil organic matter in a field in response to cropping pattern, tillage, manure application, erosion, cover crops and stover removal.

Potential benefits of knowing and maintaining proper soil organic matter levels include lower operating costs, greater farm income and healthier soils.

“How you farm today will affect the amount of soil organic matter content your fields will have in years to come,” Islam said, “so it’s important to choose sustainable production practices that sustain soil health and protect long-term productivity.”

“How you farm today will affect the soil organic matter your fields will have in years to come.”—Rafiq Islam

Should it stay or should it go? Tool will let you know

  • Organic matter, among other things, provides soils with nutrients and microbes. It also boosts tilth and certain biochemical processes.
  • Stover, a source of organic matter, is the leftover leaves and stalks from field crops such as corn.
  • Instead of leaving corn stover on a field to provide organic matter, a farmer can sell it, for example, as a biofuel feedstock.
  • To contact the scientist: Rafiq Islam at

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