Adaptation of soil quality indices and application to three tillage systems in southern Illinois

I. Hussain, K. R. Olson, M. M. Wander, D. L. Karlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainability of agricultural management systems has become an issue of wide public concern and international debate. One result is that soil quality assessment has been suggested as a tool for evaluating sustainability of soil and crop management practices. Our objective was to adapt a soil quality index to assess the effects of three long-term tillage systems on sloping Grantsburg silt loam soil. Soil quality was evaluated using a framework that included three soil functions: (1) resist erosion (water relations), (2) provide plant nutrients (nutrient relations), and (3) provide a favorable root environment (rooting relations). A score for each of these functions was computed using measurements (indicators) that were normalized with one of the three (more is better, optimum, or worse) scoring functions. Six different indices were developed from a basic framework. Modifications included changing the weighing factors, threshold limits, or type of scoring function applied to indicators, and the addition of air-filled and water storage porosity to the nutrient and rooting relations functions. Changing threshold limits and the type of scoring function used for surface residue improved the correlation between water relations and soil loss. The addition of porosity indicators increased the sensitivity of nutrient and rooting relations functions to yield and cone index, respectively, and resulted in a better correlation between porosity indicators and plant population. Computing soil quality indices helped to combine different soil properties and processes into a simple tool that explained changes in complex soil properties in response to different tillage practices. This supports previous studies suggesting that computing soil quality indices and functions could be useful for selecting management practices to maintain or improve soil quality. Our results demonstrated that adjusting threshold limits for local conditions can make the function ratings more or less sensitive to the management practices being evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-249
Number of pages13
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 1999


  • No-till
  • Soil indices
  • Soil productivity
  • Soil properties
  • Soil quality
  • Tillage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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