Deficiencies in the soil quality concept and its application

J. Letey, R. E. Sojka, D. R. Upchurch, D. K. Cassel, K. R. Olson, W. A. Payne, S. E. Petrie, G. H. Price, R. J. Reginato, H. D. Scott, P. J. Smethurst, G. B. Triplett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Soil quality is a concept that has deeply divided the soil science community. It has been institutionalized and advocated without full consideration of concept weaknesses and contradictions. Our paper highlights its disfunctional definition, flawed approach to quantification, and failure to integrate simultaneous functions, which often require contradictory soil properties and/or management. While the concept arose from a call to protect the environment and sustain the soil resource, soil quality indexing as implemented may actually impair some soil functions, environmental quality, or other societal priorities. We offer the alternative view that emphasis on known principles of soil management is a better expenditure of limited resources for soil stewardship than developing and deploying subjective indices which fail to integrate across the necessary spectrum of management outcomes. If the soil quality concept is retained, we suggest precisely specifying soil use, not function or capacity, as the criteria for attribute evaluation. Emphasis should be directed toward using available technical information to motivate and educate farmers on management practices that optimize the combined goals of high crop production, low environmental degradation, and a sustained resource.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-187
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2003


  • Environment
  • Land use
  • Landscape
  • Soil condition
  • Soil fertility
  • Soil health
  • Soil organic matter
  • Soil properties
  • Soil quality index
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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