Crops News

19 ways to now measure your soil health


After three years of collaboration, the Soil Health Institute has narrowed it down to 19 soil health measurements to determine just how healthy or unhealthy our nation’s soils are.

“We can’t really know the answer to that question until we have a set of common soil health measurements that scientists and farmers can compare and track over time,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, CEO of the Soil Health Institute. “But we believe our endorsement of 19 measures today will help us seek and track that common ground – and ultimately answer that important question.”

Over the last three years, scientists from public and private sectors, farmers, field conservationists, soil test laboratories, and many others provided input to develop a “Tier 1” list of recommended measures, considered effective indicators of soil health. These specific measurements are regionally defined, have known thresholds, and help define management strategies to improve soil function – like providing nutrients and water.

“Establishing these measurements of soil health will allow a broad group of stakeholders to speak the same language,” said Honeycutt. “This will go a long way in mobilizing further efforts to improve sustainability of our food production systems.”

“The National Association of Conservation Districts believes a shared, foundational understanding of how we measure soil health is critical to advancing the adoption of conservation management practices countrywide,” NACD President Brent Van Dyke said. “We anticipate that through our own Soil Health Champions Network, and supported by the measurement efforts of the Soil Health Institute, our nation’s agricultural producers will be better equipped than ever to sustainably grow America’s food, fuel, and fiber in an era of unprecedented global demand.”

Specific Tier 1 measures endorsed include:

  • organic carbon
  • pH
  • water-stable aggregation
  • crop yield
  • texture
  • penetration resistance
  • cation exchange capacity
  • electrical conductivity
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • carbon mineralization
  • nitrogen mineralization
  • erosion rating
  • base saturation
  • bulk density
  • available water holding capacity
  • infiltration rate
  • micronutrients

“Many of these Tier 1 measures have proven effective to help producers achieve high yields for decades,” Honeycutt said. “Consequently, many of the soil test laboratories and field conservationists are already using these measurements. Currently, the Soil Health Institute is reaching out to those organizations to explore additional implementation opportunities.”

“We support the widescale adoption of these soil health indicators, recognizing the robust process and scientific collaboration behind them,” said Nick Goeser, director of the Soil Health Partnership, and National Corn Growers Association director of soil health and sustainability. “We encourage farmers and agronomists to regularly test soil, use these indicators as business management tools for greater insight, and adopt practices that will improve soil health, like reducing the intensity of tillage to build soil organic matter.”


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