Organic agricultural systems are often assumed to be more sustainable than conventional farming, yet there has been little work comparing surface water quality from organic and conventional production, especially under the same cropping sequence. Our objective was to compare nutrient and sediment losses, as well as sweet corn (Zea mays L. var. saccharata) yield, from organic and conventional production with conventional and conservation tillage. The experiment was located in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Four treatments, replicated four times, had been in place for over 18 yr and consisted of conventional tillage (chisel plow and disk) with conventional production (CT/Conven), conservation no-till with conventional production (NT/Conven), conventional tillage with organic production (CT/Org), and conservation no-till with organic production (NT/Org). Water quality (surface flow volume; nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment concentrations) and sweet corn yield data were collected in 2011 and 2012. Sediment and sediment-attached nutrient losses were influenced by tillage and cropping system in 2011, due to higher rainfall, and tillage in 2012. Soluble nutrients were affected by the nutrient source and rate, which are a function of the cropping system. Sweet corn marketable yields were greater in conventional systems due to high weed competition and reduced total nitrogen availability in organic treatments. When comparing treatment efficiency (yield kg ha-1/nutrient loss kg ha-1), the NT/Conven treatment had the greatest sweet corn yield per unit of nutrient and sediment loss. Other treatment ratios were similar to each other; thus, it appears the most sustainably productive treatment was NT/Conven.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. All rights reserved.