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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Assessing soil quality in organic agriculture

Authors
item Franzluebbers, Alan
item Haney, Richard

Submitted to: Extension Reports
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: September 25, 2006
Publication Date: October 23, 2006
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J., Haney, R.L. 2006. Assessing soil quality in organic agriculture. Critical Issue Report 2006,2. The Organic Center.

Interpretive Summary: Soil quality is directly linked to food production, food security, and environmental quality (i.e. water quality, global warming, and energy use in food production). Unfortunately, moderate to severe degeneration of soils (i.e., loss of soil biodiversity, poor soil tilth, and unbalanced elemental composition) has occurred in America as a result of the previously unrecognized consequences of (a) fossil-fuel based mechanization and (b) liberal application of synthetic plant protection and nutrient amendments. Reports on the state of our land suggest that soil sediment, nutrients, and organic matter have been lost at rates far exceeding a sustainable level, the result of which has had enormous direct and indirect consequences on the profitability, productivity, and environmental quality of agriculture in America. A team of ARS scientists in Watkinsville GA and Temple TX worked in close cooperation with The Organic Center (www.organic-center.org) to produce a report describing the scientific basis for soil quality assessment in organic agriculture. The report contains information on the definition and determination of soil quality, as well as key indicators of assessing soil quality. The proposed minimum-data-set approach for soil quality assessment will be used to highlight how soil quality in organic agricultural systems can be assessed using the current paradigm of soil testing sample submission, data evaluation, and management interpretation. The proposed minimum-data-set approach will serve as the foundation for a national survey of soil quality that The Organic Center plans to implement during the next two years on the rapidly growing acreage of organic agriculture, estimated most recently at 2.2 million acres.

Technical Abstract: Soil quality is directly linked to food production, food security, and environmental quality (i.e. water quality, global warming, and energy use in food production). Unfortunately, moderate to severe degeneration of soils (i.e., loss of soil biodiversity, poor soil tilth, and unbalanced elemental composition) has occurred in America as a result of the previously unrecognized consequences of (a) fossil-fuel based mechanization and (b) liberal application of synthetic plant protection and nutrient amendments. Reports on the state of our land suggest that soil sediment, nutrients, and organic matter have been lost at rates far exceeding a sustainable level, the result of which has had enormous direct and indirect consequences on the profitability, productivity, and environmental quality of agriculture in America. A team of ARS scientists in Watkinsville GA and Temple TX worked in close cooperation with The Organic Center (www.organic-center.org) to produce a report describing the scientific basis for soil quality assessment in organic agriculture. The report contains information on the definition and determination of soil quality, as well as key indicators of assessing soil quality. The proposed minimum-data-set approach for soil quality assessment will be used to highlight how soil quality in organic agricultural systems can be assessed using the current paradigm of soil testing sample submission, data evaluation, and management interpretation. The proposed minimum-data-set approach will serve as the foundation for a national survey of soil quality that The Organic Center plans to implement during the next two years on the rapidly growing acreage of organic agriculture, estimated most recently at 2.2 million acres.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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