Soil Health Assessment

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To improve our understanding and ability to influence the soil’s response to changes in human management, we need to move beyond the current soil chemical approach to a more complex view of the interactions between soil physical, chemical, and biological constraints as they relate to overall function. “

National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS): Soil Health Tech Note, May 2019

The Healthy Soil Act instructs the NM Department of Agriculture (NMDA) to:

[…] encourage farmers and ranchers and land managers to undertake voluntary soil health measurements;

[…] complete a baseline soil health assessment by testing the organic matter, water infiltration rate, microbiology and aggregate stability of soils, in addition to analyzing phospholipids and monitoring soil cover.

HEALTHY SOIL ACT (HB 204)

The following recommendations for baseline soil health testing take into account the current debate about which indicators are most appropriate to determine soil health. Several existing protocols were evaluated according to usability, cost and commercial availability and correlated to the bill language in the Healthy Soil Act.

Baseline soil testing

 WARD labs  https://www.wardlab.com/services/soil-health/
Cornell University https://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu/testing-services/individual-soil-analyses/
 Sandia and Los Alamos Laboratories offer resources to expand baseline soil testing through their
Small Business Assistance Program.

Soil monitoring

Establishing a practice of observation that informs management decisions is key to long-term soil health on working lands. Below are three frameworks that all use similar field methods. For consistency it’s important to stick with one protocol.

Download the Guidelines for Soil Quality Assessment in Conservation Planning (PDF) from NRCS.

Download the rangeland health assessment guide Bullseye! Testing your Rangeland Health Objectives (PDF) by Kirk Gadzia and Todd Graham.

Download Field Methods for Monitoring Soil Health and Watershed Function (PDF) by Didi Pershouse and Peter Donovan.

 Learn more about soil health with NRCS Soil Health Resources