CCRA-3: Assessing and Managing Soil Quality for Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Prinicipal Investigator:

Peter Motavalli
Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia 


The intent of this activity is to enhance and strengthen ongoing soil science-related project activities and initiate new cross-cutting research that uses the unique opportunities of the SANREM CRSP to examine common soil-quality issues across a wide range of climates, cropping systems, and socioeconomic conditions. A common theme among many of the projects is soil degradation from both natural and human-induced factors, and assessment of changes in soil quality due to the introduction of improved soil management practices. Identifying and developing appropriate methods to quantify and assess changes in soil quality are essential for evaluating the extent of soil degradation and the effectiveness of improved management practices. Soil quality indicators should also have meaning to farmers and land managers linking science with practice in the assessment of sustainability of management practices.

Objectives of this activity:

  • Assess community perceptions and indicators of soil quality, including differences in perceptions of soil quality due to gender, environment, and socioeconomic factors
  • Conduct a literature review of soil quality assessment techniques and identify practical but scientifically sound techniques that are appropriate to evaluate soil quality across SANREM activities
  • Determine the efficacy of spectroscopic-based (i.e., near-infrared, mid-infrared, and visible range) analytical methods to evaluate soil organic matter fractions and soil quality in degraded and non-degraded soils in the wide range of environments represented by the SANREM projects, and
  • Collaborate in the evaluation of soil metagenomic methods as an indicator of soil degradation.

A soil quality field kit had been adapted based on the potassium permanganate (KMnO4) procedure developed by Ray Weil at the University of Maryland. Two versions were tested in this cross-cutting project: one containing a portable spectrophotometer and the other an interpretative card. Both the directions for use of the kit and the card were translated into Spanish, three kits were distributed in Bolivia, and field training for their use was conducted in Umala in March 2008. Based on this training, several adaptations to the method were recommended.

This activity is collaborating with the SANREM CRSP soil metagenomics project. Peter Motavalli traveled to Bolivia in March and, working with Bolivian collaborators, identified several criteria for the site selection, timing of soil sampling, and sampling methodology.