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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality and Soil Life

Authors
item Kennedy, Ann
item Stubbs, Tami - WASHINGTON STATE UNIV
item Hansen, Jeremy

Submitted to: University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Bulletin
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: January 1, 2004
Publication Date: January 1, 2004
Citation: Kennedy, A.C., Stubbs, T.L., Hansen, J.C. Soil Quality and Soil Life. University of Idaho Extension Website. 2004.

Interpretive Summary: Soil quality can define the essence of soil and characterize a soil's beauty. It encompasses all facets of soil as a living, dynamic system. Soil quality can be broken into physical, chemical and biological parameters. Soil organic matter is a key soil component because it provides food for microorganisms and plants, increases soil aggregation, soil warming, air and water flow and is the place of greatest nutrient storage. We have found that organic matter can reduce compaction and crusts, and increase microbial activity. The majority of soil microbes are beneficial to plant growth, but they need to be effectively managed. Soil aggregation is extremely important for water infiltration, erosion control, plant growth and air quality. A greater volume of aggregates in the larger size fraction will reduce water and wind erosion, keep soil, nutrients, and organic matter in the fields, and increase water infiltration. We have found that there is a great value in long term monitoring of soil quality components. It is critical to use several indicators not just one, as one indicator may lead to wrong conclusions. Higher values or greater numbers for any soil quality measurement should be, but may not always be, better. Recording changes in soil quality allows for the comparison of management practices. Soil quality can be a valuable tool to monitor the health of our soils. Growers, landowners and landlords can use soil quality analyses to evaluate management practices.

Technical Abstract: Soil quality is an indication of the fitness of a soil to protect water and air quality, sustain plant and animal productivity and quality, and promote human health. It encompasses all facets of this soil as a living, dynamic system. Recording changes in soil quality allows for the comparison of management practices. Soil quality can be broken into physical, chemical and biological parameters. A healthy soil, one full of active microorganisms and with adequate organic matter, is essential to agriculture. Healthy soil produces healthy plants efficient in the accumulation of nutrients, weed control, and erosion control through extensive root systems. We have found that there is a great value in long term monitoring of soil quality components. It is critical to use several indicators not just one, as one indicator may lead to wrong conclusions. Higher values or greater numbers for any soil quality measurement should be, but may not always be, better. Also the boundaries imposed by climate and environment need to be recognized. Soil quality can be a valuable tool to monitor the health of our soils. These comparisons of management practices can show increase in land productivity to growers, landowners and landlords. Sustainable practices will result only when the multiple functions of soil are included in decisions.

Last Modified: 9/20/2014
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