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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Sojka, Robert
item Upchurch, Dan

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/9/1999
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Soil quality is a concept in soil science that attempts to use a number of measured soil parameters to determine a relative value of the soil. The concept is meant to be specific to each soil and each use of soil. The concept has seen rapid adoption and institutionalization by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and has been the focus of much attention by some of the soil science research community. Many soil scientists disagree with the fundamental basis of the soil quality concept. There is great concern that the concept has been institutionalized before key facets of the scientific basis for the concept have been adequately examined or validated by the scientific community. One of the greatest concerns stems from inclusion of non- parametric value assumptions in the development of quality indices. This means that social values and assumptions (not merely scientific measurements) play a key role in determining the structure and content and scoring such indices, an aspect that many scientists feel should be separate from any aspect of soil analysis. The paper attempts to draw attention to some of the reasons why many soil scientists do not accept the scientific basis of the concept including scientific, interpretive, and implementation concerns. It also cautions against the pitfalls of premature institutionalization of the concept in view of these potential pitfalls.

Technical Abstract: We consider the appropriateness of institutionalizing "soil quality" as a defined parameter in soil science. The mission and goals of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the soil management research of land grant universities and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) stand to be significantly affected. Our concern is for premature acceptance of an incompletely and largely untested paradigm, potential unintended outcomes, devaluation of the perception of soil science through the elevating of vague lay concepts and folk maxims to parity with the established scientific principles of edaphology, promotion of environmental policy in place of the scientific method, and taxonomic bias in establishing the paradigm. Also, we contend that scientific examination of this concept, free of advocacy, is overdue. The definition of soil quality has proven elusive and value-laden, with policy overtones of political correctness. We contend that no compelling argument has surfaced for redefining the entire soil science paradigm away from the value-neutral tradition of edaphology and problem solving to a quality-based paradigm of environmental holism tied to transient ecosystem perceptions and social values. We assert it is the soil science profession's role to perform the science to enable resource management policy and problem solving, not to establish relational-based value systems within the science. We suggest emphasizing quality soil management rather than soil quality management as a professional and scientific goal.

Last Modified: 10/16/2017
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