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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 35 No. 2, p. 548-557
    Received: June 8, 2005

    * Corresponding author(s): sparlingg@landcareresearch.co.nz
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What is Soil Organic Matter Worth?

  1. G. P. Sparling *a,
  2. D. Wheelerb,
  3. E.-T. Veselyc and
  4. L. A. Schippera
  1. a Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton, New Zealand
    b AgResearch, Ruakura Research Centre, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand
    c Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland, New Zealand


The conservation and restoration of soil organic matter are often advocated because of the generally beneficial effects on soil attributes for plant growth and crop production. More recently, organic matter has become important as a terrestrial sink and store for C and N. We have attempted to derive a monetary value of soil organic matter for crop production and storage functions in three contrasting New Zealand soil orders (Gley, Melanic, and Granular Soils). Soil chemical and physical characteristics of real-life examples of three pairs of matched soils with low organic matter contents (after long-term continuous cropping for vegetables or maize) or high organic matter content (continuous pasture) were used as input data for a pasture (grass–clover) production model. The differences in pasture dry matter yields (non-irrigated) were calculated for three climate scenarios (wet, dry, and average years) and the yields converted to an equivalent weight and financial value of milk solids. We also estimated the hypothetical value of the C and N sequestered during the recovery phase of the low organic matter content soils assuming trading with C and N credits. For all three soil orders, and for the three climate scenarios, pasture dry matter yields were decreased in the soils with lower organic matter contents. The extra organic matter in the high C soils was estimated to be worth NZ$27 to NZ$150 ha−1 yr−1 in terms of increased milk solids production. The decreased yields from the previously cropped soils were predicted to persist for 36 to 125 yr, but with declining effect as organic matter gradually recovered, giving an accumulated loss in pastoral production worth around NZ$518 to NZ$1239 ha−1 This was 42 to 73 times lower than the hypothetical value of the organic matter as a sequestering agent for C and N, which varied between NZ$22 963 to NZ$90 849 depending on the soil, region, discount rates, and values used for carbon and nitrogen credits.

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Copyright © 2006. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyASA, CSSA, SSSA