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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Quality

Authors
item Singer, M - UNIVERSITY OF CA-DAVIS
item Sojka, Robert

Submitted to: Mcgraw-Hill Yearbook of Science and Technology
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: December 1, 2000
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Soil is important to sustaining terrestrial life, to environmental processes, & to feeding humanity, growing many of the raw materials important to civilization, & supporting structures, roadways, landscapes & playing fields. Assessing various aspects of the status of soil to aid in mgmt. decision has been the central focus of soil science since its inception. In the last decade some soil scientists have suggested that soil status can be expressed as "soil quality." The concept implies that a collection of soil attributes can be used to determine how good or bad a soil is on a qualitative or semi-quantitative scale. The concept focuses on soil potential to perform specified functions, & places particular emphasis on productivity for crop growth & soil biological vigor. Non-adherents point to inadequate recognition of mgmt. as a determiner of soil potential, & the fact that soil simultaneously serves multiple functions. This necessitates an exceedingly large number of criteria & definitions to arrive at an arbitrary assessment of quality for a given set of circumstances. They further note that key functions, such as productivity & environmental protection often are oppositely served by a given set of soil attributes. Ultimately, insertion of institutional, personal, political, etc., values in the empirical indexing process is required to arrive at an evaluation or indexing of quality. This requirement has caused the concept to be controversial in the soil science community, dividing the community over the scientific validity of the concept, despite universal agreement on the need to understand soil function & develop best management practices to insure productivity, sustainability & environmental protection.

Technical Abstract: Soil is important to sustaining terrestrial life, to environmental processes, & to feeding humanity, growing many of the raw materials important to civilization, & supporting structures, roadways, landscapes & playing fields. Assessing various aspects of the status of soil to aid in mgmt. decision has been the central focus of soil science since its inception. In the last decade some soil scientists have suggested that soil status can be expressed as "soil quality." The concept implies that a collection of soil attributes can be used to determine how good or bad a soil is on a qualitative or semi-quantitative scale. The concept focuses on soil potential to perform specified functions, & places particular emphasis on productivity for crop growth & soil biological vigor. Non-adherents point to inadequate recognition of mgmt. as a determiner of soil potential, & the fact that soil simultaneously serves multiple functions. This necessitates an exceedingly large number of criteria & definitions to arrive at an arbitrary assessment of quality for a given set of circumstances. They further note that key functions, such as productivity & environmental protection often are oppositely served by a given set of soil attributes. Ultimately, insertion of institutional, personal, political, etc., values in the empirical indexing process is required to arrive at an evaluation or indexing of quality. This requirement has caused the concept to be controversial in the soil science community, dividing the community over the scientific validity of the concept, despite universal agreement on the need to understand soil function & develop best management practices to insure productivity, sustainability & environmental protection.

Last Modified: 9/23/2014
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