Soil quality and health are terms describing similar concepts, but the latter appeals to farmers and crop consultants as part of a holistic approach to soil management. We regard soil health as the integration and optimization of the physical, biological and chemical aspects of soils for improved productivity in an economic and sustainable manner. This paper describes the process used for the selection of soil quality/health indicators that comprise the new Cornell Soil Health Test. Over 1,500 samples collected from controlled research experiments and commercial farms were initially analyzed for 39 potential soil quality indicators. Four physical and four biological indicators were selected based on sensitivity to management, relevance to functional soil processes, ease and cost of sampling, and cost of analysis. Seven chemical indicators were also selected as they are part of the standard soil nutrient test. Soil health test reports were developed to allow for an overall assessment, as well as the identification of specific soil constraints. The new soil health test is being offered on a for-fee basis starting in 2007. In addition, visible near infrared reflectance spectroscopy was evaluated as a possible tool for low-cost soil health assessment. From preliminary analyses, the methodology shows promise for some but not all of the soil quality indicators. In conclusion, an inexpensive soil health test was developed for integrative assessment of the physical, biological, and chemical aspects of soils, thereby facilitating better soil management.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Soil Science
- Plant Science