Soil Health

Soil health (or soil quality) has been defined as the capacity of a soil to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation over a human time scale (thousands of years). In more specific terms, a healthy soil must have: good tilth and drainage, sufficient depth for crop growth, sufficient exchangeable nutrient supply (not excessive or prone to leaching), small population of weeds, insect pests or plant pathogens, large population of beneficial organisms, no toxins, and resilience to adverse conditions. A number of individual soil tests may be used to assess soil health (including those obtained with Routine Soil Analysis); however, a comprehensive evaluation should include a suite of complementary tests to measure soil chemical, physical, and biological properties. Researchers at Cornell University evaluated a large number of these measurements for use in Northeastern cropping systems, selected the most meaningful, and have included them in the Cornell University Soil Health Test, which is now offered as a service to growers. This suite of soil health indicators is designed to provide growers with helpful information about problems that may limit crop productivity and/or soil performance. Recommendations are provided with the results to help growers address problems that may be identified. More information about the Cornell University Soil Health Test (including sampling protocol, current prices, and submission forms) can be found at www.hort.cornell.edu/soilhealth/. Other soil testing laboratories in New England now offer soil health tests.  Check with your local lab.