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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality: An Indicator of Sustainable Land Management?

Author
item Herrick, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Applied Soil Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 1, 1999
Publication Date: August 1, 2000
Citation: HERRICK, J.E. SOIL QUALITY: AN INDICATOR OF SUSTAINABLE LAND MANAGEMENT? APPLIED SOIL ECOLOGY. 2000. V. 15(1). P. 75-83.

Interpretive Summary: Soil quality appears to be an ideal indicator of sustainable land management. Nonetheless, few land managers have adopted soil quality as an indicator of sustainable land management. this paper explores the reasons why soil quality is not more widely adopted by producers and other land managers. It also makes five recommendations to increase the relevance to managers of soil quality in specific and soil information in general. 1) Demonstrate relationships between soil quality and ecosystem functions, including biodiversity conservation, production and soil and water conservation. 2) Increase the power of soil quality indicators to predict response to disturbance, including tillage, trampling and wheel traffic. 3) Increase accessibility of monitoring systems to land managers. Many existing systems are too complex, too expensive, or both. 4) Integrate soil quality with other biophysical and socioeconomic indicators. 5) Place soil quality in a landscape context, so that the results and recommendations can be easily applied across farms and ranches.

Technical Abstract: Soil quality appears to be an ideal indicator of sustainable land management. Soil quality, by definition, reflects the capacity to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health. Few land managers have adopted soil quality as an indicator of sustainable land management. There are a number of constraints to adoption. Most could be overcome through a concerted effort by the research community. The following issues need to be addressed: 1) Demonstrate causal relationships between soil quality and ecosystem functions, including biodiversity conservation, biomass production and conservation of soil and water resources. 2) Increase the power of soil quality indicators to predict response to disturbance. Although there are many indicators that reflect the current capacity of a soil to function, there are few that can predict the capacity of the soil to continue to function under a range of disturbance regimes. 3) Increase accessibility of monitoring systems to land managers. 4) Integrate soil quality with other biophysical and socioeconomic indicators. 5) Place soil quality in a landscape context. In conclusion, soil quality is a necessary but not sufficient indicator of sustainable land management. Its value will continue to increase as limitations are diminished through collaboration between scientists, land managers and policy makers.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014