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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SOIL RESOURCE EVALUATION OF MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS TO ENHANCE AGROECOSYSTEM SUSTAINABILITY Title: Soil quality demonstrations for building economically and environmentally sustainable soil

item Nichols, Kristine
item Liebig-Samson, Susan -
item Stika, Jon -
item Kutka, Frank -
item Lewton, Marcus -
item Archuleta, Ray -

Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: June 21, 2011
Publication Date: October 14, 2011
Citation: Nichols, K.A., Liebig-Samson, S., Stika, J., Kutka, F., Lewton, M., Archuleta, R. 2011. Soil quality demonstrations for building economically and environmentally sustainable soil. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts. 72-2.

Interpretive Summary: Building sustainable soil is vital to maintaining life on planet Earth and will address many of our economic, environmental, and social issues. The authors have put together a packet of a dozen demonstrations and field, classroom, and laboratory methods which may be used to qualitatively and quantitatively address the difficulty in defining and illustrating soil quality and soil health, especially to a non-technical audience. The special session titled ’Dynamic Teaching Materials Demonstrations’ at the upcoming ASA-CSA-SSSA annual meetings in San Antonio, TX will provide a showcase for the authors to show these demonstrations to a large audience and to distribute the demonstration packet. Most of these demonstrations are simple and may be performed with a variety of commonplace items. The demonstrations link soil management, such as reduced tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, and/or grazing intensity, with soil health to quickly evaluate improvements in soil sustainability.

Technical Abstract: Soil quality, soil health, and soil sustainability are widely used terms but are difficult to define and illustrate, especially to a non-technical audience. A packet of a dozen demonstrations for the field and classroom was compiled and titled ‘Building a Sustainable Soil’. In this packet, new methodology was developed to qualitatively and quantitatively estimate water infiltration rates (IR), water-holding capacity at saturation (WHCs), potential nitrate-nitrogen (NO3–N) loss or soil aggregation from a whole soil stability index (WSSI). Complete details for assembling apparatus and conducting demonstrations and measurements are provided. The methods have been performed successfully multiple times to a variety of audiences and have been tested on benchmark soils. Values from these soils were compared with each other and to a soil ranking based on management history. IR, WHCs and WSSI increased with a reduction in soil disturbance and more continuous plant cover. Nitrate–N loss was highest in soils with synthetic fertilizer inputs, little plant cover, and more soil disturbance. The WSSI methodology was published in Soil and Tillage Research and the IR, WHCs, and potential nitrate-nitrogen (NO3–N) loss methodology in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

Last Modified: 11/28/2015
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