Get Assistance with Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health

posted in: Resources, Soil health assessment | 4

By Claudia Reynoso, NM Healthy Soil Working Group

NM Healthy Soil Working Group is now offering free assistance in assessing your soil health
using Cornell University's CASH Protocol.

The CASH Protocol: 

The Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) is a wonderful method for testing and improving soil health. Last year I decided to take the Advanced Soil Health Certificate Course through Cornell University and loved the intensity and practicality of the CASH protocol. The CASH protocol emphasizes the integration of soil biological, physical, and chemical measurements. There are a dozen indicators and each were evaluated for: 1) sensitivity to changes in soil management practices, 2) ability to represent agronomically and environmentally important soil processes, 3) consistency and reproducibility, 4) ease and cost of sampling, 5) cost of analysis, and 6) ease of interpretation for users. The results of these measurements are condensed into a “grower-friendly comprehensive soil health assessment report with indicators scores, constraints identification, and management suggestions (CASH, The Cornell Framework, 2016).” Overall I love that this is a basic, easy to use, and easily accessible tool that can make all of the difference in our fields. 

Why assess soil health?

• Increase awareness of soil health;
• Understand constraints beyond nutrient deficiencies and excesses;
• Target management practices to alleviate soil constraints;
• Monitor soil improvement of degradation resulting from management practices;
• Facilitate applied research;
• Land valuation;
• Enable assessment of farming system risk.

Source: CASH, The Cornell Framework, 2016

Field Assessments & CASH Reports

As a grower and natural resource consultant I just love how the CASH protocol makes improving and understanding soil health so accessible. It takes 3-6 cups of well mixed soil from 8-10 random spots where you desire to learn about your soil, penetrometer readings (optional), a complete submission form (state & country entered), and a double-bagged sample to be shipped off. The results then come in with biological, physical, and chemical measurements that are scored and come with management suggestions and identified constraints. 

The image to the right is an example of a CASH report. It gives all of the pertinent information needed to understand where the soil has constraints and where one should place their focus. For instance, in this report the three red scores are communicating that the surface is hard and crusting, the constraints are poor rooting, water is running off instead of infiltrating, which is also affecting active carbon in the soil.

As a natural resource consultant, I would look at this report and give short term and long term suggestions based on the constraints. For this report the constraints would be: 1) surface hardness, 2) aggregate stability, and 3) active carbon. Short term suggestions would be to: complete targeted mechanical surface loosening followed by fresh organic matter amendments and long term suggestions would be to: switch to no-till, reduce heavy loads & traffic, avoid disturbing soil when wet to reduce transferring compaction to lower soil levels, incorporate rooting cover/rotation crops to strengthen & rebuild aggregates, increase diversity of species in the system through rotations.

The CASH protocol is easily accessible for all growers and producers. It is reproducible which makes it effective and efficient. If one chooses to guide their management practice using the CASH protocol, they could test the field that is being managed once again to determine if the implemented practices are indeed addressing soil constraints and concerns. Access and interpretability are important to me. I believe that when we have a tool that works for all of us, is accessible to all of us, and is easily understood by all of us, then we can begin to speak the same if not similar language on at least one aspect of our integrated life with our abundant planet. 


4 Responses

  1. Vincent Garcia


    I am interested in having my soil assessed.

    thank you,

    Vincent Garcia
    cp: 505.550.2301

    • admin

      Thanks, Vince –we’ll be in touch!

  2. Dair Obenshain


    Thank you, both for researching this for our state and for writing and publishing this easy-to-understand guide to what it is and why we need it! … and, for next steps, do you think it would be useful to do a webinar for folks who are interested or wondering about it, so we know more about what we’d do, what the timeline is, how we’d interpret the results with your help, and then where we’d go from there?

    South Valley, ABQ

    • admin

      That’s an excellent idea, Dair. We’ll see when we can schedule such a webinar on soil health assessment.

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