New Soil Health Indicators Proposed by USDA; Comment Until December 13

New Soil Health Indicators Proposed by USDA; Comment Until December 13

No more burying cotton underwear in your fields to gauge soil health (unless you want to). The USDA has proposed six standard indicators to measure it.

These six measures were developed to improve agricultural conservation planning and implementation. The six measures were recommended by a group of federal, university, public and private sectors soil health experts. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has posted a draft Technical Note detailing these soil health indicators and associated laboratory methods in the Federal Register for public review and comment. NRCS is accepting comments through December 13, 2018. Use this link to post your comments.

Soil health is defined as the capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants, animals, and humans. The six key soil physical and biological processes identified that must function well in a healthy soil, and that would benefit from standard measurement methods, are: (1) Organic matter dynamics and carbon sequestration, (2) soil structural stability, (3) general microbial activity, (4) C food source, (5) bioavailable N, and (6) microbial community diversity. Also, laboratory methods for assessing each indicator were chosen based on interpretability, ease of use, cost effectiveness, measurement repeatability, and ability to inform agricultural management decisions.

“We are committed to supporting our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters as they work to build healthier soils across their operations,” says Bill Northey, USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “Standardized measures give us consistency in scientifically assessing soil health and will improve our ability to evaluate soils across the United States using methods that are objective and actionable.”

Northey says the USDA will work closely with other stakeholders to ensure that the indicators and corresponding laboratory methods are appropriately understood and applied across diverse agricultural environments. The USDA developed these quantitative assessment methods to improve customer service and facilitate data sharing nationwide, leading to broader collaboration among soil health experts.

Review and comment on the draft Technical Note in the Federal Register by December 13, 2018. Learn more about the basic principles of soil health on the NRCS website.

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