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2007 Soil and Water Conservation Society - Soil Quality Workshop

"Soil Quality: the Foundation for Natural Resource Quality"


At the request of its sponsors, this workshop aims to promote awareness and discussion among scientists and natural resource specialists to advance soil quality in the USA. To accomplish this, speakers will illustrate the relationships between soil quality and other natural resources; explore emerging soil quality policy issues; discuss common management practices that improve soil quality under several land uses; and describe methods to assess soil quality. Discussion among all participants will be aimed at using these concepts in their daily work to accomplish mission goals and to further ensure conservation of our natural resources.

Soil quality is defined as the capacity of a soil to function. The soil function(s), or ecosystem service(s), of interest will depend on the management goals for that soil. In other words, the critical functions for a soil that is intended to hold up a building are different from the functions necessary to grow a crop. Common soil functions include:

The services provided by these functions result in improved water and air quality by reducing or eliminating water- and wind-borne erosion as well as nutrient and pesticide loss. Productive soils with good structure provide habitat for a diverse soil food web. Soil biodiversity can lead to reduced incidence of soil disease and pests, increased internal cycling of nutrients, improved soil structure and water partitioning. In many systems, applying practices to increase soil organic matter will improve these interacting soil functions and services.

The use-specific definition of soil quality is often criticized as being too complicated. However, we ask our soils to do many things and no one soil can do everything at once. Therefore, development of a set of clear criteria for each land use is one important goal to further the soil quality concept. We ask the workshop attendees to participate in developing goals to further the science and practice of soil quality in the last session of the day.

Susan Andrews

Past Chair, SSSA S-3 Soil Quality Working Group and
Leader, National Soil Quality Technology Dev. Team
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service


Andrews, Susan - Susan Andrews leads the USDA NRCS Soil Quality National Technology Development Team and is headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina.