What is Soil Health?

The Idaho Soil Health Assessment Card developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines Soil Health as the continued capacity of a soil to function. Healthy soils support plants, animals and humans by:

  • cycling nutrients
  • increasing water infiltration and availability
  • filtering and buffering toxic compounds
  • maintaining a stable porous structure that withstands natural forces (e.g.  water, wind)

Healthy, fully functioning soil creates a habitat that sustains diverse soil micro- and macro-organisms. The Idaho Soil Health Assessment Card will help to determine how well your soil is functioning, including infiltrating water, cycling nutrients, and evaluating other biological parameters.

Why is Soil Health Important?

Soils that lack organic matter, structure, and microorganisms are susceptible to erosion, hold less water, and need more chemical inputs to rebalance their productivity.

For example, water runoff is the symptom we see when soils have a water infiltration problem. Improving soil health increases soil aggregates and improves soil structure resulting in greater water infiltration, decreased erosion, and reduced runoff and sedimentation.
Follow these 5 Key Principles to improve soil health:
1. Minimize soil disturbance
2. Maximize the diversity of plants in the rotation
3. Keep living roots in the soil as much as possible
4. Keep the soil covered with armor
5. Integrate livestock into the cropping system
Information taken from the Idaho Soil Health Assessment Card developed by the NRCS

Soil Health Research:

Teague et al.2011, Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie.

Information and Resources: 

(click on documents below to view)
Cover Crops for Soil Health:
Cover Crop Periodic Table - WY
Cover Crop Periodic Table - NRCS
Rangeland Soil Health Information:
Principles for High Functioning 
Soil Soil Health Support Tool:
Satellite Data Tools For Wyoming Agriculture 
Fall 2017 CowCountry Articles:
Rangeland Soil Health: How to assess it in ways that inform livestock  management
Rangeland Soil Health and Livestock Production
Soils and Soil Testing:
Hierarchical Approach to Understanding Soil Function – Spheres of Influence
The Biology of Soil Compaction
NRCS Field Book for Describing & Sampling Soils
Sweatless Soil Sampler
Soil Health: Principles
Soil Armour
Minimizing Soil Disturbance
Plant Diversity
Continual Live Plant/Root
Livestock Integration 
Soil Quality Information Sheets (NRCS) – while these are targeted at rangelands, the principles are applicable to all land uses 
Indicators for Assessment & Monitoring
Aggregate Stability
Organic Matter
Physical & Biological Soil Crusts
Soil Biota
Soil Erosion
Wind Erosion
Haney Soil Test Information
Soil Health Nutrient Tool (Haney Test)
Soil Depth and ID
Soil Health Tool Explanation v 4.6
Soil Testing Labs for Soil Health Nutrient Tool