Abstract The influence of electrolyte concentration (EC) and sodium adsorption ratio (SAR) on the tensile strength and aggregate stability via flocculation and dispersion behaviour of an Alfisol varying in organic carbon content due to different cropping systems was assessed using a split-split plot experiment involving eight soils, three levels of EC and seven levels of SAR. Generally, at a given SAR value, mean weight diameter (MWD) increased with organic matter status of the soil in the following order: virgin ≫pasture>wheat>wheat-fallow. As MWD decreased, the amount of dispersible clay increased at a given SAR indicating that more surfaces exposed due to slaking of aggregates led to more clay dispersion. Statistical analysis of changes in tensile strength with various factors showed that an increase in organic matter decreased the magnitude of changes in strength induced by sodicity because organic matter tends to increase aggregate stability (higher MWD). While individual soils had significant relationships between the tensile strength of the aggregates and the amount of spontaneously dispersible clay, this relationship was poor when the results of all soils were pooled together. The amounts of dispersible clay from dry aggregates were higher than from wet aggregates and dispersive breakdown of the aggregates of sodic soils occured irrespective of the mode of wetting. The most important factor in determining the soil strength was the amount of clay dispersed during wet-sieving analysis followed by MWD.