Soil health assessment for agricultural lands

TitleSoil health assessment for agricultural lands
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsStott D.E., Wienhold BJ, Van Es H, Herrick JE
Book TitleApproaches to Soil Health Analysis, Volume 1
ARIS Log Number377493
Keywordsagriculturally managed lands, assess management impacts, index, indicator interpretation, indicator selection, integration, measured soil indicator data, site-specific interpretations, soil function, soil health indicator, Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF)

There are an increasing number of public and private efforts to evaluate soil health, both here in the USA, and throughout the world. This chapter reviews soil health frameworks that are being widely applied in the US and, in some cases, globally. These include soil health cards. These have been developed in a number of countries and continue to be popular as they rely easily observable indicators. In the US soil health cards were widely developed and distributed by NRCS and universities at the end of the 20th century at state and regional levels. The Soil Condition Index (SCI) was developed by the USDA NRCS to evaluate cropland management systems It predicts the consequences of management actions on the state of soil organic carbon (SOC).The SCI predicts qualitative changes in SOC in the top 10 cm (4 in) of soils based on (1) the amount of organic material, both plant and animal, returned to the soil, (2) number and type of field operations that impact the breakdown and decomposition of organic materials, and (3) the rates of wind and water erosion. The AgroEcosystem Performance Assessment Tool (AEPAT) is a software tool developed to assess relative effects of management on agricultural sustainability, including soil health. The technical reference, “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health” (IIRH) incorporates some in-field soil health indicators as does the forest based “Soil Vital Signs: A New Soil Quality Index (SQI) for Assessing Forest Soil Health”. IIRH is similar to some of the cropland-focused soil health assessment protocols discussed here in that it requires users to evaluate each indicator against its natural potential, which is a function of climate, topography, and relatively inherent or static soil properties such as texture, depth and mineralogy. A similar approach is used in the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) which provides site-specific interpretations of soil health indicator results for agriculturally managed lands. It uses measured soil indicator data to assess management impacts on soil function using three steps: indicator selection, indicator interpretation, and if desired integration into an index. The Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) is an assessment tool that relies on mostly laboratory measurements and was originally known as the Cornell Soil Health Test. Finally, the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) is a global platform for easily identifying soils and accessing land-related knowledge and information through a mobile app. It includes a module for documenting and monitoring the status of the USDA-NRCS in-field cropland soil health indicators.