What is Soil Health?

The Wyoming 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.