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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality, Fertility, and Health - Historical Context, Status, and Perspectives

Authors
item Karlen, Douglas
item Wienhold, Brian
item Andrews, Susan

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: December 9, 2002
Publication Date: January 2, 2004
Citation: KARLEN, D.L., WIENHOLD, B.J., ANDREWS, S.S. SOIL QUALITY, FERTILITY, AND HEALTH - HISTORICAL CONTEXT, STATUS, AND PERSPECTIVES. SCHJONNING, S., ELMHOLT, S., CHRISTENSEN, B.T., EDITORS. CAB INTERNATIONAL, CAMBRIDGE, MA. MANAGING SOIL QUALITY: CHALLENGES IN MODERN AGRICULTURE; CHAPTER 2. 2004. P. 17-33.

Technical Abstract: This chapter reviews the history of soil quality, examines its relationship to soil fertility, productivity, and management, and discusses its use to ensure the sustainability of modern agricultural practices. Internationally, the concept has been equated with soil fertility, productivity, management, and land capability classes. Our position is that soil quality is not "an end in itself" but rather a science-based tool that can be very useful for guiding soil management decisions by identifying both indicator and management thresholds and using them to determine the sustainability of various practices. For many land uses, a minimum data set (MDS) consisting of physical (e.g. aggregate stability, bulk density), chemical (e.g. pH, organic carbon, total N, EC, phosphorus) and biological (e.g. potentially mineralizable N, microbial biomass) indicators will provide sufficient information to evaluate the sustainability of soil management decisions. To facilitate soil quality evaluations, we are developing a flexible framework beginning with management goals, critical soil functions associated with those goals, and appropriate scoring to interpret the indicator data. Indicator thresholds associated with the scoring functions are both soil- and site-specific because of differences associated with the inherent soil factors, climate differences, crops grown, and management goals. Management thresholds (e.g. response to tillage, fertilization, crop rotation, water management, etc.) would be more generic reflecting temporal trends associated with the indicators when used to evaluate the sustainability of alternative land uses and could be used for predictive purposes.

Last Modified: 12/28/2014
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