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Development of Soil Quality Assessment Tools in the US

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Title: Development of Soil Quality Assessment Tools in the US


1
Development of Soil Quality Assessment Tools in
the US
  • Susan Andrews
  • Soil Quality Tech. Dev. Team
  • USDA-NRCS

NRCS
2
Soil Quality Tool Development Approach
issue driven
Sustainable Decision- Making
research based
user input
3
Overview
  • Concepts and Issues
  • Focus Group Results
  • Research and Development

4
Soil Quality Definitions
capacity of the soil to function -
Karlen et al. 1997
  • fitness for use
  • - Larson Pierce, 1991

5
What is soil function?
  • What a soil does
  • A.K.A.
  • Ecosystem services

6
Soil Functions
  • Maintaining biodiversity productivity

7
Soil Functions
  • Regulating and partitioning water and solute flow

Runoff
8
Soil Functions
  • Filtering buffering

9
Soil Functions
  • Storing and Cycling Nutrients

10
Soil Functions
  • Physical Stability and Support

11
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12
Inherent vs Dynamic Soil Quality
  • reflects natural characteristics
  • based on soil forming factors
  • climate, parent material, topography, and
    vegetation, all acting over time Jenny, 1941
  • describes status or condition of soil
  • result of land use or management practice
  • INHERENT
  • DYNAMIC

- after Pierce and Larson, 1993
13
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14
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15
SO WHAT?
16
US Farmers Definitions
17
US Farmers Definitions continued
18
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19
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20
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21
Soil Quality A Component of Sustainability
22
What US Farmers Wanted
  • research showing the relationship between soil
    quality and economics

Is there real economic value you can place on a
certain level of measurable of soil quality?

SVJ farmer
23
Cost of SQ loss via Erosion
  • Degrades organic matter levels and other fines
    first

Off-site values
24
Dissatisfaction with Available Tools
It is astonishing to me that they're still
only giving me a one page soil test.
You need a more sophisticated tool than that.
SJV farmer  
  I might as well be speaking to crop
advisors in Russian, about worrying about carbon
levels or C to N ratios.
SV farmer
25
Soil Quality Assessment
26
What US Farmers Wanted
  • predictions of management practice effects on
    soil quality
  • If I switched to no-till, what outcomes can
    I expect?
    IL-IA farmer
  • ability to make soil quality comparisons over
    time, including changes in carbon
  • site-specific interpretations for indicators

27
MAP 40. Soil Quality Degradation Indicator for
Cropland
Predictive Tools
28
Soil Conditioning Index (SCISoil
DisturbancePlant ProductionErosion)
Carbon (lbs)
29
Practice Based Indices
Do you use conservation tillage? Do you rotate
crops? Do you use cover crops? Do you use
rotational grazing?
SQ Score
30
Comparative Tools
31
Soil Health Scorecards
  • Qualitative
  • Self Assessment Tool
  • Developed by Farmers for Farmers
  • Uses Farmer-Based Descriptive Terms
  • Promotes Awareness of Soil Quality
  • Based on Wisconsin Health Card
  • - Romig et al., 1995

32
Soil Quality Card Design Guide
  • How to develop health cards with local farmers
  • Focus group and consensus building techniques
  • Interpretation limited

33
Semi-Quantitative Kits
34
Soil Quality Test kit Guide
  • Test procedures
  • General interpretations
  • Spreadsheets available
  • Who performs?
  • Lacks C assay

35
Site Specific Tools
Inherent SQ
Soil Function
Soil A Soil B
36
Site-Specific Interpretation
GA Ultisols IA Mollisols
37
Soil Management Assessment Framework
- Andrews et al., 2002
38
Step 1 Indicator Selection
Management Goals
  • In addition, selection depends on Crop
    Practice Inherent Soil Region Scale

39
2. Interpretation
Productivity
Ecosystem Function
Nitrogen Added (kg/ha)
- after DeFries et al., 2002
40
Step 3 Integration
Low score for bulk density suggests impaired
rooting and aeration due to aeration Consider
controlled traffic, reduce tillage, sub-soiling,
no traffic when soils are wet
41
What do farmers think?
42
Comparison of SQ Indices with Farmer Perceptions
  • Biologically Integrated Farming Systems Project
  • 14 participating farms
  • side-by-side fields with organic amendment
    alternatives

43
Index Results Over Time
BIFS Farm 2
Index Value
Nov 95 Nov 96 May 97
Nov 97 May 98
Sampling Date
denotes significance at 0.005
-Andrews et al., 2002
44
Survey Question 1
45
Farm-Specific Indexhanded out after question 1
46
Survey Response 2
How well did the index reflect your perception of
soil quality?
N 12 Mean 8 Std. Dev. 1 Range min. 6
max. 10
-Andrews et al, 2003
47
Farmers Responses
  • Most felt the calculated index scores reflected
    their perceptions
  • ... the overall soil quality score indicates
    what I was thinking
  • it came out exactly the way I scored it
  • All used yield as their metric of soil quality

48
Summary
  • US farmers wanted comprehensive management tools
  • Research needed
  • Tie SQ and economics,
  • Qualitative indicators and management
    prescriptions
  • Develop in-field carbon measures
  • Interpretation of indicators must be
    site-specific
  • SQ assessment tools can meet this need
  • Continued development is needed

49
Before researchers become researchers they
should become philosophers. They should consider
what the human goal is, what it is that humanity
should create. Masanobu
Fukuoka
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