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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality: a Review of the Science and Experiences in the Usa

Authors
item Wienhold, Brian
item Andrews, Susan - USDA NRCS AMES IA
item Karlen, Douglas - USDA ARS AMES IA

Submitted to: Environmental Geochemistry and Health
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 20, 2002
Publication Date: September 1, 2004
Citation: Wienhold, B.J., Andrews, S.S., Karlen, D.L. 2004. Soil quality: a review of the science and experiences in the usa. Journal of Environmental Geochemistry and Health 26:89-95. 2004

Interpretive Summary: Human activity is having a negative effect on soils in many regions of the world. Humankind is dependent on soils for a number of essential processes such as production of food and fiber. In addition soils play an essential role in air and water quality. The soil quality concept was introduced to make our understanding of soils more complete and to help guide use and allocation of labor, energy, fiscal, and other inputs as agriculture intensifies. Soil quality is being used as an educational tool and as a tool for producers to use in assessing management practices. Soil properties and methods for measuring those properties have been identified and developed. An index is being developed to aid in the assessment process. Data from previous studies were used to evaluate the index. The index ranked a variety of management practices in the same order as did expert opinion in the studies. The soil quality index has great potential as a management assessment tool.

Technical Abstract: An increasing human population is placing greater demand on soil resources and as a result degradation is taking place in many regions of the world. This is critical because soils perform a number of essential processes including supporting food and fiber production, influencing air quality through interaction with the atmosphere, and serving as a medium for storage and purification of water. The soil quality concept was introduced to complement soil science research by making our understanding of soils more complete and helping guide the use and allocation of labor, energy, fiscal, and other inputs as agriculture intensifies and expands to meet increasing world demands. Soil quality thus provides a unifying concept for educating professionals, producers, and the public about the important processes that soils perform. It also provides an assessment tool for evaluating current management practices and comparing alternative management practices. Soil attributes comprising a minimum data set have been identified and both laboratory and field methods have been developed for measuring them. A soil quality index is being developed to normalize measured soil quality indicator data and generate a numeric value that can be used to compare various management practices or to assess management-induced changes over time. Using previously published data, we evaluated the soil quality index as a tool to assess a variety of management practices in the Northern Great Plains. The index ranked the treatments from highest to lowest as follows: grazed fertilized tame pasture, moderately grazed, ungrazed, heavily grazed, annual cropping with no-tillage, conventionally tilled crop-fallow. This order agrees with the way they were subjectively ranked in the publications. The soil quality index shows potential for use as a management assessment tool.

Last Modified: 9/20/2014
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