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Why might Soils Rich in Organic Matter not be Fertile?

Explore why organic-rich soils may lack fertility due to factors like pH imbalance, waterlogging, and more, and learn how to enhance soil health.

Table of Contents

It’s true that soils rich in organic matter are usually fertile, but there are instances when enough organic matter may not be able to save the day. Understand that soil fertility is much more nuanced. There can be some reasons why, even after adding organic matter, you are not able to reap the desired results. Let’s discuss this in detail. 

Factors limiting the fertility of your organic-rich soil

Factors limiting the fertility of your organic-rich soil

High acidity or Alkalinity 

The plant’s tolerance to acidity and alkalinity varies from one to another. Adding organic matter changes the pH levels of the soil, either too acidic or too alkaline, which can lead to slow decomposition and less nutrient availability. 


When excessive water gets into the pores in the soil, the exchange of important gasses is hindered. Due to lack of oxygen, the roots’s ability to absorb water is reduced, resulting in stunted growth. Also, waterlogging may give rise to soil-borne diseases like phytophthora, which also affects growth. 

Excessive peat 

In acidic wetlands, peats are formed due to the slow decomposition of remains of organic material. This also adds to the acidity of the soil. As peats decompose slowly and release very few nutrients, the overall growth is stunted. 

Soil type

Each type of soil has a different capacity for absorbing and retaining nutrients from organic matter. A sandy or acidic soil may not effectively get the best out of organic material. Hence, even after adding decent amounts of organic matter, the results are unfavorable. 

Improper composition of organic matter

Each crop needs different amounts of nutrients; for instance, a corn crop may need more nitrogen than black beans, which need more phosphorus. There are chances that your organic matter lacks the necessary nutrients for the crop. Affecting its overall growth. Moreover, if the organic matter contains harmful weeds, pathogens, or allelopathic compounds, the soil’s fertility is affected.

How to make the soil fertile?


Now that we know the possible reasons for soil infertility despite being rich in organic matter let’s understand the best practices to improve soil fertility.

  • Try to balance the pH between 5.5- 7.0. In order to raise the pH levels, add some lime, as it neutralizes harmful reactions in the soil, and sulfur or aluminum to lower the pH. 
  • Prepare a nutrient-rich compost by adding eggshells, coffee grounds, worm casting, and even seaweeds to address the lack of essential nutrients. 
  • Improve soil porosity by installing raised beds; this is how you can combat waterlogging.
  • Inoculate some microorganisms, such as mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal fungi, to address the reduced microbial activity. 
  • Plant more cover crops to improve the drainage system and retain the moisture required for soil health. 
  • Use readily decomposable organic matter to avoid peat formation. Farmyard manure can be a good option for this.

Case Studies: Successful Management of High-Organic-Matter Soils

Vermont Dairy Farm

A dairy farm in Vermont adopted a layered composting strategy to balance nitrogen-rich manure with carbon-rich materials. The approach improved soil structure and increased forage crop yields, supporting healthier livestock.

California Vineyard

In Northern California, a vineyard implemented biochar into its high-organic soil to stabilize excess nutrients and enhance water retention. The result was a notable increase in grape quality and a reduction in water usage.

Organic Vegetable Garden in Texas

An organic garden in Texas uses crop rotation and green manure to optimize the benefits of its rich organic soil. This method effectively managed nutrient levels, leading to a consistent increase in vegetable production each year.

Closing comments 

Organic matter is useful in improving the overall soil fertility. However, the results certainly depend on various other factors ranging from soil type climate to microbial activities. The suggested best practices should be to improve the soil’s retention capacities and improve its overall fertility. 

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