Submitted to: Applied Soil Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/25/2017
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A Interpretive Summary: Soil health is gaining a global audience as soil condition is becoming an environmental quality, human health, and political issue. In order to evaluate soil health, we must view it as a living ecological system instead of a purely physical or chemical system. This paper described the theory behind the Soil Health Tool developed by the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service. The Soil Health Tool estimates plant-available nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and gives an indication of the soils overall health using chemical soil analysis combined with microbial soil respiration, which is a prediction of biological activity. The tool was designed for use in commercial soil testing laboratories, so it utilizes rapid, cost-effective procedures. Through the use of the Soil Health Tool, producers will have improved plant-available nutrient estimates as well as an indication of the health of their soil.
Technical Abstract: Soil health has traditionally been judged in terms of production; however, it recently has gained a wider focus with a global audience, as soil condition is becoming an environmental quality, human health, and political issue. A crucial initial step in evaluating soil health is properly assessing the current condition of the soil. Currently most laboratory soil analyses treat soils as non-living, non-integrated systems, thus plant available nutrients have traditionally been estimated with methods that utilize harsh chemical extractants in testing soil for inorganic N, P, K, and micronutrients. Complementary methods, including soil texture, pH, and total soil organic matter, also do not evaluate biological soil aspects. In this paper we introduce and describe the theory behind the Soil Health Tool, which has two objectives: 1) estimate plant available N, P, and K; and 2) provide an indication of soil health focused on nutrient and C cycling. The integrative soil testing approach estimates inorganic N, P, and K with a novel soil extractant and potentially mineralizable N and P as influenced by water extractable organic C and N as well as soil respiration. The tool was designed for use in commercial soil testing laboratories, so it utilizes rapid, cost-effective procedures. The tool also offers insight into the complex interactions between soil chemistry and biology and thus provides additional value to producers through improved plant available nutrient estimates as well as an indication of the soil health status as related to C, N, and P cycling.