Wander, M., and L. Drinkwater. 2000. Fostering soil stewardship through soil quality assessment. Applied Soil Ecology 15(1):61-73.

Abstract: Soil quality is not a purchased technology; instead, it is a concept that can be used in making land management decisions. Researchers have generally agreed upon the soil properties that determine soils’ capacity to function and have emphasized that soil quality must be understood in context. Soil quality research has included the following: (1) soil management research, where the effects of management on soil properties and dependent processes are assessed; (2) measurement development for soil quality assessment to be carried out by the farmers themselves, by advisors, or consultants and (3) systems assessments, that consider the physical and cultural contexts that impact soil quality decision-making. Because stewards of the land ultimately determine whether soil quality is improved, maintained, or diminished, many research projects in the US have included the active participation of farmers in efforts to develop the soil quality concept. More effort has been spent on soil management and on the development and testing of farmer oriented measurements than on system assessments. There is growing consensus that the development of soil quality assessments to be used by farmers to solve problems within individual fields will be challenging. Organic matter and organic matter-dependent properties are the most promising indicators for use in a soil quality assessment where the information will be used in management decisions. Unfortunately, the successful development of on-farm measures may not be sufficient to guarantee that soil quality is maintained because there is a mismatch in the temporal and physical scales over which soil quality and farm security are achieved. Educational materials that highlight soil contributions to farm, landscape and global functioning coupled with dialoguing between practitioners, scientists, and policy-makers can communicate the importance of soil quality to sustainability. Successful soil quality efforts will relate soil properties to soil function in a way that fosters stewardship among individuals and builds public support for polices that promote soil management to ensure agriculture, industry, and the natural environment are sustained. Strategies and priorities are expected to vary according to audience, land-use constraints and the intended scale of application.