Soil Health

The integrative concept of soil health highlights soil as an important part of agroecosystems. The Natural Resources Conservation Service defines soil health as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Soil health focuses on dynamic properties of soil rather than its inherent characteristics. There are many characteristics that comprise soil health as a living ecosystem, including:

  • High plant, animal, and microbial diversity in the soil
  • Non-compacted soil structure that allows for proper root growth and water infiltration and retention
  • The ability of the soil to be resilient to environmental stresses, like drought
  • Levels of organic matter that supply appropriate nutrients to the plants at the correct time
  • The building of soil organic matter and soil quality over time for long term sustainability
  • Low levels of disease, weed, and pest pressure

Many agricultural practices have been shown through scientific research and farmer observations to enhance soil health. These practices include using crop rotation diversification, cover crops, no or minimal tillage, polyculture, compost, and insectary strips. Adopting such practices can enable farmers to enhance agrobiodiversity and associated ecosystem services that are important for farm profitability and sustainability, such as reducing the need for chemical inputs, sequestering carbon, and retaining nutrients. Simultaneously, feedbacks of these practices to soil health over time may contribute to production improvements such as better crop quality, higher nutrition value, improved yields, and stable yields during times of environmental stress.