Two Novel Measurements Detect Differences in Soil Health Management Systems

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) announces a recent publication authored by SHI’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Cristine Morgan, and Research Soil Scientist, Dr. Dianna Bagnall, is now available, open source, in Soil and Tillage Research.

The study, entitled “SLAKES and 3D Scans characterize management effects on soil structure in farm fields,” investigated the impact of no-till on soil structure and hydraulic function in the Lower and Middle Brazos River Watershed of Texas using measurements of saturated hydraulic conductivity, organic carbon, bulk density, slaking index of soil aggregates (inversely related to aggregate stability), and soil structure. The research was conducted in farm fields under three management systems: conventional tillage, no-till, and perennial grass. Soil structure was measured using multistripe laser triangulation, a novel method for 3D scanning of soil surface horizons. Slaking index was measured using a recently developed smartphone application called SLAKES. 

No-till adoption shifted the soil health of row crop farm fields to be more like that of perennial grass fields. Organic carbon was significantly higher in no-till compared to conventionally tilled fields and hydraulic conductivity was 1.3 cm h-1 higher in no-till. As well, soil structure measured from 10 to 30 cm depth was significantly improved in no-till compared to conventional tillage. Improvements in organic carbon and soil hydraulic function are meaningful indicators of improved soil health and can also provide ecosystem services to off-site stakeholders. The two novel measurements (3D scanning of soil structure and slaking index from a smartphone application) were particularly able to detect differences between management systems.

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