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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: ISSUES OF SCALE FOR EVALUATING SOIL QUALITY

Authors
item Halvorson, J. - BATTELLE PACIFIC LAB
item Smith, Jeffrey
item Papendick, Robert

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 21, 1996
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Soil quality is a national issue with significant importance to sustainable agricultural systems. Soil quality is defined in many ways depending upon the objective which could be crop production, nutrition, natural resource protection or contaminate repositories. To determine soil quality or an index thereof we must identify and evaluate many soil parameters that may relate to soil quality. If this index is to be expanded to fields or watersheds the spatial and temporal variability of indicators must be addressed. In addition how parameters relate to each other must be considered, such as decreasing erosion at the same time as decreasing the pH from fertilizer. These potential problems are the challenge for research in soil quality.

Technical Abstract: Good soil quality means different things to different people, influenced by our relationship to the land, what we use it for and how much of it is available. Recently, we have come to define soil quality as the "capability of soil to produce safe and nutritious foods and crops in a sustainable manner over the long term, and to enhance human and animal health without adversely impairing the natural resource base or adversely affecting the environment". The major question that still remains is how exactly to measure soil quality. Developing a soil quality index cannot simply be an academic exercise because it will be called upon not only to provide a basis for land capability classification (e.g. for productivity, health or environmental quality), but also to assess the impact of management practices; to quantify the value of land as a base for taxation or land credit, to establish regulatory compliance, and to provide data for monitoring or modeling environmental change. Much effort has been directed toward identifying the soil variables that can be used to estimate soil quality because several different assessments will be derived from the same set of data. Because it is an ecologically complex, composite property, scientists generally agree that evaluating soil quality will, in some manner, require integration of several kinds of soil variables including soil physical, chemical and biological properties and human factors. These indicators are now being evaluated for their ability to indicate changes in soil quality, their stability, landscape variability, ease of measurement, and their suitability for integration with other soil quality parameters.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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