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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Patzel, Nikola
item Sticher, Hans
item Karlen, Douglas - Doug

Submitted to: Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/1/2000
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: A vast amount of world literature was reviewed to help clarify differences in the concepts of soil fertility and soil quality in the German-language literature. This was important because the electronic media, through outlets such as the world wide web, is rapidly bringing scientific communities together with English as the global language. This enhanced communication requires agriculture and scientific communities to strive for clear and consistent terminology throughout the world. Based on this review of the literature, we conclude that the concepts of soil fertility and soil quality are different. The term soil quality should be used as a tool to encompass the diverse soil properties and processes associated with how the soil is functioning, while the concept of soil fertility needs to be recognized for its unique but limited focus on providing nutrients for plant growth. Clarification of these terms will substantially help improve communication between farmers and soil research scientists, especially in Germany and other countries throughout the world.

Technical Abstract: This paper is based on an extensive review of soil fertility using literature from soil science, agronomy, and ethnic studies. The spectrum of scientific opinions on soil fertility was visualized graphically, definition types were analyzed, and problems within the conceptual approach towards soil fertility were shown. The various concepts were divided between the terms of soil fertility and soil quality. Soil fertility is not applicable as a technical term in natural sciences as it describes a definite, but dispositional (concealed) soil feature; therefore, it is not fully operational for the natural sciences. Soil quality denotes undefined and interchangeable sets of appreciated soil attributes and functions, which are assigned by value judgements. It is a tool that integrates different soil state variables and functions in order to evaluate the capacity of a soil to do what it is expected (i.e., function) or to assess the sustainability of current land-use practices. The phenomenon of soil fertility appears to the consciousness as an autonomous counter-instance with its own mental and material qualities, referred to in traditional cultic cultivation. The main features of cultic cultivation of soil fertility are the uniting of the four elements, the religio towards the spiritual side of nature, the sacrificial, and the eros. A reevaluation of the soil fertility phenomenon in modern terms would be an innovative and forward-looking research program. Practical and scientific work on soil fertility should rediscover and revive the feeling for, and apperception of, the phenomenon of soil fertility in its mental and material aspects.

Last Modified: 05/29/2017
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