USDA Releases Standard Indicators and Laboratory Procedures to Assess Soil Health for Public Comment
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is releasing a set of standard indicators and associated laboratory procedures to assess soil health. These measures – recommended through a multi-organizational collaboration among soil health experts in the federal, university, public and private sectors – are being developed to improve conservation planning and implementation across the United States.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 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 on this Technical Note through December 13, 2018.
“We are committed to supporting our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters as they work to build healthier soils across their operations,” said 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.”
NRCS and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) led a diverse coalition of technical experts in selecting methods to assess six standard soil health indicators, which focus on key physical and biological processes that must function well in healthy soils. Those indicators are:
- organic matter recycling and carbon sequestration,
- soil structure stability,
- general microbial activity,
- carbon food source,
- bioavailable nitrogen, and
- microbial community diversity.
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.
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. USDA developed these quantitative assessment methods to improve customer service and facilitate data sharing nationwide, leading to broader collaboration among soil health experts across the Department and beyond.
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.