What We Talk about When We Talk about Soil Health


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American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America


Despite a nationwide emphasis on improving soil health in the United States, current measurement protocols have little consistency. To survey assessment practices, we conducted a meta-analysis of cover crop (n = 86) and no-tillage (n = 106) studies and compiled reported indicators, cropping systems, and soil sampling protocols from each. We then analyzed which indicators significantly responded to cover crop usage after 1 yr and 2 to 3 yr. Our results showed that out of 42 indicators, only 8 were reported in >20% of studies. Thirteen indicators showed >10% relative response after 1 to 3 yr; the remainder lacked either sufficient observations or consistent results. Looking forward, we propose that emphasis should be placed on (i) pursuing dynamic indicators (e.g., aggregate stability), (ii) standardizing sampling protocols, and (iii) developing a common framework for information sharing. These efforts will generate new insight into soil health across systems, ultimately ensuring that soil health science is useful to producers and regulators.