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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality: Why and How?

Authors
item Karlen, Douglas
item Ditzler, Craig - USDA-NRCS
item Andrews, Susan

Submitted to: Geoderma
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 17, 2003
Publication Date: June 1, 2003
Citation: KARLEN,D.L., DITZLER,C.A., ANDREWS,S.S., SOIL QUALITY: WHY AND HOW?, GEODERMA, 2003. Vol. 114, Issues 3-4, p. 145-156.

Interpretive Summary: The concept of soil quality evolved as an educational and assessment tool during the 1990's. In this paper we examine the development of the concept and discuss why it was needed. Potential applications for various soil quality test kits developed in the U.S. and New Zealand are discussed. Worldwide efforts to develop and evaluate soil quality indicators are reviewed and the steps involved in using those indicators to develop a soil quality index are presented. We also address several concerns raised by those who have expressed reservations regarding the soil quality concept. As the initial paper in a special issue of Geoderma, our goal is to present sufficient background information so that the reader will know "why and how" the concept of soil quality has evolved and how it can be used as a tool to evaluate sustainability of various agricultural management practices.

Technical Abstract: The soil quality concept evolved throughout the 1990's in response to increased global emphasis on sustainable land use and with a holistic focus emphasizing that sustainable soil management requires more than soil erosion control. The concept includes two areas of emphasis ¿ education and assessment ¿ both based soundly on principles of soil science. Soil quality test kits, farmer-based scorecards, visual assessment procedures, fact sheets, and video presentations were developed as educational materials because many people have no basis to recognize, understand, or appreciate the complexity of soil resources. Assessment tools for indexing soil quality at various scales were pursued to show the multiple functions (e.g. nutrient and water cycling, filtering and buffering of contaminants, decomposition of crop residues and other organic matter sources, and recycling of essential plant nutrients) that soils provide as the foundation for sustainable land management. Worldwide research and technology transfer efforts have increased awareness that soil resources have both inherent characteristics determined by their basic soil formation factors and dynamic characteristics influenced by human decisions and management practices. Soil quality assessment and education are intended to provide a better understanding and awareness that soil resources are truly living bodies with biological, chemical, and physical properties and processes performing essential ecosystem services.

Last Modified: 4/19/2014
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