We have always talked about the importance of soil quality. Improving soil quality is the number one thing you can do to improve yields on your farm.
What is it that we are talking about when we say "Soil Quality"?
At soilquality.org they have a couple of definitions.
"Fitness for use" (Larson and Pierce, 1991) and "the capacity of a soil to function” (Karlen et al., 1997). Taken together, these two definitions means that soil quality is the ability of the soil to perform the functions necessary for its intended use.
Probably the most comprehensive definition of soil quality to date was published by the Soil Science Society of America's Ad Hoc Committee on Soil Quality (S-581) as "the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation" (Karlen et al., 1997).
In our own words - Soil quality is the ability of a soil to function properly.
The soil needs to perform 5 essential functions properly to be considered a quality soil.
Nutrient Cycling - Soil stores, moderates the release of, and cycles nutrients and other elements. During these biogeochemical processes, analogous to the water cycle, nutrients can be transformed into plant available forms, held in the soil, or even lost to air or water.
Water Relations - Soil can regulate the drainage, flow and storage of water and solutes, which includes nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides, and other nutrients and compounds dissolved in the water. With proper functioning, soil partitions water for groundwater recharge and for use by plants and soil animals.
Biodiversity and Habitat - Soil supports the growth of a variety of plants, animals, and soil microorganisms, usually by providing a diverse physical, chemical, and biological habitat.
Filtering and Buffering - Soil acts as a filter to protect the quality of water, air, and other resources. Toxic compounds or excess nutrients can be degraded or otherwise made unavailable to plants and animals.
Physical Stability and Support - Soil has the ability to maintain its porous structure to allow passage of air and water, withstand erosive forces, and provide a medium for plant roots. Soils also provide anchoring support for human structures and protect archeological treasures.
We will walk you through these functions in future articles!
You can learn more at www.soilquality.org. The website is a collaboration between the NRCS East National Technology Support Center, NRCS National Soil Survey Center, ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, NCERA-59 Scientists, and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Blogronomist is maintained by Craig Dick, head blogronomist and VP of Sales and Marketing. Here you will find a wide array of blog articles from Craig and expert guests on topics related to soil and crop health, farming, and so much more. If it’s not here, ask us!