Submitted to: Trends in Agricultural Sciences Soil Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 26, 2001
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Soil quality has been defined in a different way than either water or air quality. It has been defined as "how the soil is functioning" within a field, across farms, or within entire watersheds. Soil quality is influenced by both natural or inherent characteristics and dynamically depending upon how the resource is being managed. Very little can be done to change inherent soil quality but the dynamic characteristics can be changed depending upon the management practices that are implemented. This report discusses how soil quality can be used as a tool to evaluate the sustainability of various management practices. Effects of cover and smother crops and strip intercropping are reviewed. These practices can affect dynamic soil quality because they are closely tied to the type and intensity of tillage used, a factor that often has a major effect because of its impact on soil organic matter. We conclude that no-till or reduced tillage and crop rotation are two management practices that farmers can use to sustain or improve soil quality and to produce a positive effect on weed and insect control.
Technical Abstract: Striving for improved soil quality may be an effective method for guiding development of more sustainable nutrient, water, insect, disease, and weed management strategies. This review examines the use of cover and smother crops, alternative nutrient and pest management strategies, and other agricultural practices for their potential impact on soil quality, crop productivity, incidence of weeds, insects, or disease, and possible off-site effects. Decision support techniques being developed for soil quality assessment are discussed as a possible tool for guiding sustainable production decisions. We conclude that by focusing on maintaining or improving soil and water resources, management decisions and strategies leading to more sustainable agriculture can be identified and developed.