Assessing and managing soil quality for sustainable agricultural system
Soil quality assessment is a process by which soil resources are evaluated on the basis of soil function. Soil organic matter (SOM) is one of the most widely knowledge indicators of soil quality(Gregorich et al., 1994). In general, SOC varies across landscapes, soil types and climatic zones. It is characterized by high levels of C in recalcitrant or humified forms and small changes in SOC resulting from changes in soil management are difficult to measure. An approach to evaluate the impact of agricultural management of SOM dynamics is to separate SOM into pools which will depend on differences in decomposition rates (Wander et al., 1994). In two-pool exponential decomposition models, the pool with the smallest size and most rapid turnover is termed labile and the larger pool with slow turnover is termed recalcitrant. The lability of SOM is defined as the ease and speed with which it is decomposed by microbes and depends on both chemical recalcitrance and physical protection from microbes. Changes in labile fractions of SOC provide an early indication of soil degradation or improvement in response to management practices (Islam and Weil,2000). In this research, soil samples will be collected from representative degraded and non- degraded soils at ongoing SANREM field sites, establish in-field and laboratory capacity to test soil quality, and develop analytical methodologies for the spectroscopic-based procedures. Collaboration with CGIAR system (i.e., ICRAF), USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS are also important goals of this project due to the ongoing efforts and resources being invested at these institutions in developing low-cost methods for soil quality evaluation.