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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: The Soil Quality Concept: a Tool for Evaluating Sustainability

Authors
item Karlen, Douglas
item Andrews, Susan

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: April 12, 2000
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Factors associated with the development of the soil quality concept are discussed and use of the concept as a tool for assessing sustainability was reviewed for a conference on "Soil Stresses, Quality and Care" in As, Norway. The fact that soil quality cannot be measured directly is discussed. Therefore, to use the concept for evaluating the sustainability of different land uses, it is necessary to identify and select appropriate indicators and sets of indicators for use in developing soil quality indices. Our preliminary results suggest the process can be successful at several different scales and with appropriate accuracy for each of those scales. However, additional efforts to develop soil quality indices, especially for non-crop production functions, are desperately needed. Hopefully, with the increased environmental quality emphasis of many European studies, an identifiable outcome of this conference will be indexing protocols that truly facilitate solving the soil resource problems that our children and grandchildren will face if we fail to take appropriate action as we begin the 21st Century. The primary beneficiaries of this keynote presentation will be members of the Nordic Association of Agricultural Research. Indirectly the information will benefit numerous land managers in Scandinavian and northern European countries where the concept of soil quality is being rigorously examined as a tool for assessing sustainability of various land management decisions.

Technical Abstract: Evolution of the soil quality concept in North America and its adoption around the world are briefly reviewed for the Nordic Association of Agricultural Research Conference entitled "Soil Stresses, Quality and Care." Simply defined as "how the soil is functioning" within a field, across farms, or within entire watersheds, the soil quality concept is discussed in relation to physical, chemical, and biological indicators that provide the actual measures needed to examine soil management effects such as the stresses that cultivation imposes. Various methods being used to monitor and assess soil quality, including user-friendly scorecards and development of indices, are discussed. Steps associated with the development of soil quality indices are outlined. They include (1) identification of appropriate indicators for various soil functions and/or land uses, (2) selection of an appropriate minimum data set, and (3) development of scoring functions that can be used to facilitate integration of the soil physical, chemical, and biological measurements in an efficient and meaningful manner. We emphasize that soil quality is not an end in itself, but rather that it should be used as a concept for evaluating the combined physical, chemical, and biological effects of various soil management practices. Further development and use of soil quality indices as tools for assessing the sustainability of all land management decisions is strongly recommended.

Last Modified: 4/19/2014
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