Exploring the benefits of organic nutrient sources for crop production and soil quality

Carl J. Rosen, Deborah L. Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Consumer demand for organically grown produce has increased dramatically over the past decade, most likely because of the perceived benefits to the environment and human health. A major component of organic production is providing organic sources of nutrients to promote plant growth as well as sustain soil quality. Organic nutrition of plants can present opportunities and challenges to the grower. The primary objective of this article is to review scientifically based information dealing with the effects of organic nutrient sources on crop yields and quality, soil properties, and environmental risks. Effects of organic nutrient sources are often evaluated by comparison with conventional production, but this approach can be problematic because nutrient source may be confounded with many other cropping system components. Despite these drawbacks, a careful examination of the literature suggests the following conclusions. Soil quality is generally improved with application of organic nutrient sources, but careful management is required to avoid environmental risks of nitrate (NO3) leaching and phosphorus accumulation. Provided that nutrient supply is equal, yields with organic sources tend to be similar to those with inorganic sources. However, lack of available nitrogen (N) that is synchronous with plant demand often limits yields in organic cropping systems. Limited N availability and varied supply of other nutrients from organic sources may contribute to the differences sometimes observed in dry matter content, tissue NO3 and mineral concentration, vitamin C and other phytochemicals, and taste. Phytonutrient content also may be affected by differences in pest control strategies among cropping systems regardless of nutrient source. There is a slight, but significantly, increased risk of produce contamination by Escherichia coli and other enteric bacteria contamination on produce when organic nutrient sources are used, but if proper guidelines are followed, contamination with the lethal serotype O157:H7 does not appear to be a major concern. Appropriate management of organic inputs is critical to achieving potential benefits for crop production and soil quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-430
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007


  • Environment
  • Health benefits
  • Nutrient sources
  • Organic
  • Soil quality


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