Soil quality: Science and process

Michelle M. Wander, Gerald L. Walter, Todd M. Nissen, German A. Bollero, Susan S. Andrews, Deborah A. Cavanaugh-Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The term soil quality (SQ) encompasses both a soil's productive and environmental capabilities. Strategies or frameworks that help farmers manage SQ are vital as sole emphasis on production can have negative environmental consequences and exclusive focus on environmental considerations could endanger supplies of food or fiber. Recent efforts in the USA have prioritized the development of SQ assessment strategies that would be used by individual farmers. The Illinois Soil Quality Initiative (ISQI) is an example of a participatory research strategy coupled with a SQ index-screening trial conducted on farm fields. A multivariate approach was used to identify promising indices and document tradeoffs in soil condition that were associated with tillage choices. Participatory aspects of the project confirmed that farmers appreciated the multivariate nature of soil and had great interest in SQ and stewardship. A dialogue component of the project had been structured to identify and then respond to cooperators' SQ information needs and to contribute to the development of indices that were related to soil function. Cooperator feedback suggested that a simple extension of this approach would be incapable of motivating or justifying the adoption of SQ building practices because factors constraining management choices were primarily structural (socioeconomic). Constructive follow-up efforts might strive to develop techniques to integrate SQ information into frameworks that reflect the outcomes to be achieved within social or economic contexts. Only by devising such strategies (which might combine models, indices, expect knowledge, and/or direct measurement) will we be able to manage the soil resource to achieve desired ends.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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