Soil Health Gap: A concept to establish a benchmark for soil health management


Growing calls and the need for sustainable agriculture have brought deserved attention to soil and to efforts towards improving or maintaining soil health. Numerous research and field experiments report soil health in terms of physicochemical and biological indicators, and identify different management practices that can improve it. However, the question remains how much of cultivated land has degraded since the dawn of agriculture? What is the maximum or realistically attainable soil health goal? Determination of a benchmark that defines the true magnitude of degradation and simultaneously sets potential soil health goals will optimize efforts in improving soil health using different practices. In this paper, we discuss a new term “Soil Health Gap” that is defined as the difference between soil health in an undisturbed native soil and current soil health in a cropland in a given agroecosystem. Soil Health Gap can be determined based on a general or specific soil property such as soil carbon. Soil organic carbon were measured at native grassland, no-till, conventionally tilled, and subsoil exposed farmlands. Soil Health Gap based on soil organic carbon was in order of no-till < conventional till < subsoil exposed farmland and subsequently, maximum attainable soil health goal with introduction of conservation practices would vary by an existing management practice or condition. Soil Health Gap establishes a benchmark for soil health management decisions and goals and can be scaled up from site-specific to regional to global scale.