A farmer-centered approach to developing information for soil resource management: The Illinois Soil Quality Initiative

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The Illinois Soil Quality Initiative (ISQI) is a multidisciplinary effort to develop accurate, practical, and meaningful measures of soil characteristics that farmers can incorporate in strategies to sustain soil resources over the long term. We discuss how the project integrates soils and social research and involves farmers and others in guiding its research activities. A board of farmers, farm managers and conservation agency personnel and a panel of soil scientists, agronomists, and social scientists established ISQI's goals and monitors its progress. ISQI technical staff gather data at 35 participating farms to assess the accuracy and practicality of several measures of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soils under varying tillage and environmental conditions. They communicate findings to farmers and the ISQI board through regional farmer meetings, a project newsletter, and statewide conferences. Participating farmers assess the measures' meaningfulness and practicality, suggest strategies for communicating soil quality information, and recommend new directions for research. These observations have been made at the end of ISQI's first year, definitions of and beliefs about soil quality vary widely, making it inadvisable to think of "soil quality" as a single, inclusive concept; farmers and other land managers want to understand better the relationships among soil qualities, productivity, and sustainability, and to learn how to enhance their soils' structural and biological characteristics; soil quality measures must be accompanied by research and education on how soil qualities are affected by management practices or systems and how they affect yields and the environment; many farmers are only mildly interested in self-administered soil quality measures, preferring instead to purchase such data from commercial sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-72
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Alternative Agriculture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


  • On-farm research
  • Participatory research
  • Sustainable agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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