Submitted to: Zero Tillage Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: February 4, 1998
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: Soil quality is being discussed in farm magazines and by crop advisors, Extension agents, and Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel. But what is it and how can no-till farmers in the northern Great Plains achieve improved soil quality? The objectives for this presentation at the 20th Annual Zero Tillage Conference are to provide a working definition of soil quality, to discuss how the concept evolved, how soil quality can be measured and evaluated, and to suggest land management practices that should sustain or improve soil quality. Simply stated, soil quality examines "how a soil is functioning" for a specific use such as producing crops, recycling biosolids, or maintaining rangeland health. Attaining good soil quality has been suggested as the first step toward increasing water quality by the U.S. National Research Council. Soil quality cannot be measured directly but must be evaluated by measuring changes in various soil properties or processes, which are collectively termed "indicators" of soil quality. Various fractions of soil organic matter, pH, and aggregate stability are generally included as indicators in minimum data sets for assessing soil quality. Methods for summarizing individual indicators into soil quality indices are also discussed. Reduced or no-tillage farming practices and the use of crop rotations are two farming practices that can improve soil quality and should be adopted when possible.