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Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis

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Soil quality vs. environmentally-based agricultural management practices

N. K. Fageria a a National Rice and Bean Research Center of Embrapa, Santo Antnio de Gois, Brazil Online Publication Date: 24 July 2002

To cite this Article Fageria, N. K.(2002)'Soil quality vs. environmentally-based agricultural management practices',Communications in

Soil Science and Plant Analysis,33:13,2301 2329

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1081/CSS-120005764 URL:


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COMMUN. SOIL SCI. PLANT ANAL., 33(13&14), 23012329 (2002)

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N. K. Fageria* National Rice and Bean Research Center of Embrapa, Caixa Postal 179, CEP 75375-000, Santo Antonio de Goias, Brazil

ABSTRACT Soil is a key natural resource and soil quality is one of the most important properties, which determines crop productivity and sustainability. Good soil quality not only produces good crop yield, but also maintains environmental quality and consequently plant, animal, and human health. The physical, chemical, biological, and ecological factors of a soil form its quality and determine crop productivity. These soil quality factors or properties can be modied or improved in favor of better soil quality through adoption of appropriate management practices. However, there are some permanent soil properties inherent to the soil like soil depth, slope, climate, texture, stoniness, and mineralogy contribute signicantly to soil quality and are little affected by management. Selected soil management practices to improve soil quality are discussed.

*E-mail: 2301

Copyright q 2002 by Marcel Dekker, Inc.



INTRODUCTION Soil is a dynamic, living, natural body that plays many key roles in terrestrial ecosystem. The components of soil include inorganic mineral matter (sand, silt, and clay particles), organic matter, water, gases, and living organisms such as earthworms, insects, bacteria, fungi, algae, and nematodes.[1] A productsoil differs from the material from which it is derived in many physical, chemical, biological, and morphological properties and characteristics. Soil is a vital natural resource that is nonrenewable on a human time scale.[2] One of many uses and roles of soil is its function as a lter. Soils can sequester large amounts of pollutants before threatening biological organisms or the healthiness of food.[3,4] High soil quality as a lter media requires sink capacity for toxins, i.e., the ability to be unclean. Alternately, making a soil unclean by adding toxic herbicides and pesticides improves soil quality for crop production by suppressing target organisms while raising pollutant concentrations.[5] Soil quality not only related to crop productivity and agricultural sustainability but also play an important role in maintaining environmental quality. As a consequence of these attributes, it also determines plant, animal, and human health.[6 8] Soil is a dynamic, living resource whose condition is vital both to the production of food and ber and to global balance and ecosystem function, or in essence, to the sustainability of life on earth.[9] In the early days, soil productivity was totally depending on natural resources and there was a sound ecological equilibrium between soil, plant animal, and human.[10] However, situation started changing with the advancement of agricultural science and technology. Use of agricultural machinery, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, good quality seeds, and intensive cultivation created disequilibrium between soil and plant ecosystem and soil quality started declining. A signicant decline in soil quality has occurred worldwide and there is need to develop criteria to evaluate soil quality and to take corrective actions to improve soil quality. These aspects of soil quality are discussed in this article.

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DEFINITIONS OF SOIL QUALITY Soil quality has been dened in several ways in the literature. According to Soil Science Society of America,[11] soil quality is the capacity of a soil to function within ecosystem boundaries to sustain biological productivity, maintain environmental quality, and promote plant and animal health. The quality of a soil is largely dened by soil function and represents a composite of its physical, chemical, and biological properties that provide a medium for plant growth, regulate and partition water ow in the environment, and serves as an environmental buffer in the formation, attenuation, and degradation of



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environmentally hazardous compounds.[12] Parr et al.[13] dened soil quality as the capability of a soil to produce safe nutritious crops in a sustained manner over the long-term, and to enhance human and animal health, without impairing the natural resource base or harming the environment. Karlen et al.[14] dened soil quality is the capacity of a soil to function in an ecosystem to support plants and animals, resist erosion, and reduce negative impacts on associated air and water resources. Parr et al.[13] and Doran and Parkin[1] dened soil quality as the soils natural ability to produce good yields of high-quality crops and protect human and animal health without harming the natural resource base. The meaning and quantication of soil quality depend on chemical, physical, and biological parameters. Of these, the biological measurements are least understood.[15] As a complex functional state, soil quality may not be directly measurable, but may be inferred from measurable soil properties termed soil quality indicator properties.[16,17] Soil quality must be dened in terms of distinct management and environmental considerations specic to one soil, under explicit circumstances for a given use. The considerations include social, economic, biological, and other value judgments. In addition, the soil performs several functions simultaneously, not several functions separately. Only a difcult mixture of scientic and nonscientic judgments could decide the balance of functions needed to score soil quality or properly weight conicting simultaneous function.[5] Soil quality should not be confused with soil health, soil productivity, and soil fertility. Soil health is the ability of the soil to perform according to its potential. Soil conditions or health changes over time due to human use and management or to unusual natural events.[5] Soil productivity can be dened as the capacity of a soil to produce a certain yield of crops or other plants with a specied system of management, whereas, soil fertility is the quality of a soil that enables it to provide nutrients in adequate amounts and in proper balance for the growth of specied plants or crops.[11]

INDICES FOR ASSESSING SOIL QUALITY Soil quality indices may be used to assess its capacity for producing crops, maintaining environmental quality, and promote animal and human health. From this information, it may be possible to determine which uses of soils are better for long-range goals of agriculture and society. Soil quality traditionally has focused on, and has been equated with, agricultural system productivity. Crop yield is an important indicator of system productivity, which is in part dependent upon soil quality.[18] Crop yield can serve as a bioassay for several interacting factors such as physical, chemical, and biological. However, crop yield alone is an incomplete measure of system productivity. A production system should also take into account environmental quality and its consequences on human health.



Soil Physical Indices Soil physical properties such as soil texture, soil structure and soil bulk density are important indices of soil quality. These indices are related to crop productivity, agricultural chemical adsorption, and their translocation within soil prole and consequently environmental pollution. The stability of the soil pore system is one of the important properties that affect the ability of the soil to store and transmit air, water, and solutes.[19] Several management practices can inuence the soil pore system, including tillage system and organic matter addition. Organic matter plays a fundamental role in the stabilization of soil and the formation of pores.[20 22] Numerous studies have addressed the benecial effect of organic matter on aggregate stability[23 25] and bulk density.[26] Well-structured soils and soils with macropores and fractures provide a pore network for root growth[27 29] and water inltration often resulting in no yield reduction, even when the soil is compacted.[30] Other studies have shown that moderate compaction may benet crop yield, especially during dry years,[31,32] because of better seed soil contact and better soil continuity contributing to capillary rise of water to the root zone.[33] Soil Chemical Indices Important soil chemical indices, which inuence soil productivity and consequently soil quality, are nutrient supplying capacity, pH, cation saturation ratio, organic matter content, oxidation reduction, and salinity and alkalinity. Determining the total element concentration of a soil is the rst step in evaluating its potential health or ecological hazard.[34] Soil Biological Indices Soil microbiological properties can serve as soil quality indicators because soil microorganisms are the second most important (after plants) biological agents in the agricultural ecosystem.[18] There are many indicators of soil biological properties, i.e., microbiological biomass content, microbial diversity and activity, enzyme activity, etc. Biological activity depends on the complex interaction between soil physical and chemical properties. Soil biological properties have received less emphasis than physical and chemical properties in characterizing soil quality because their effects are difcult to measure or predict.[13] Among a group of biological indicators, the ratio of crop N uptake to potentially mineralized N as determined by microbial respiration plus mineral N found over a growing season provides an informative soil quality indicator.[18] Yakovchenko et al.[18] evaluated this index in a 12-year-old Farming Systems

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trial in the Rodale Institute Research Center, Emmaus, PA, and concluded that soils in plots that had been conventionally managed were of lower quality that soils treated with manure or planted with legume cash grain crops. Microbial Nux determinations corroborated these results and could be used as a soil quality indicator without the need for crop yield data. Pesticides play very important role in modern agriculture inuencing crop productivity, soil and environmental quality and human health. The degradation of pesticides in soil is mainly due to biological transformations and is thus controlled by the availability of the organic chemical and by the activity of the soil microora.[35] The degradation capacity of the soil microora may vary with time, because the growth and activity of the degrading microorganisms are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity.[36] Selected indicators of soil quality and some processes they impact are presented in Table 1. These indicators are related to soil physical, chemical, and biological properties. Some of these properties are quite ephemeral and can be modied easily from day to day as a result of routine management practices or weather. Others are permanent properties inherent to the soil prole or site and are little affected by management. A management oriented soil quality assessment would focus on properties that are intermediate between these two extremes. Since conservation management is known to generally enhance soil quality, it may be most useful to include in a soil quality index those properties found to be most enhanced by conservation management. SOIL QUALITY MANAGEMENT AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES Maintaining soil quality at desirable level is a very complex issue due to involvement of climatic, soil, plant, and human factors and their interactions. However, by adopting certain soil, crop, and plant management practices, it is possible to reduce soil degradation or maintain soil quality at desirable or threshold level. These practices are improving or maintaining soil organic matter (SOM) content, organic and biodynamic management, use of adequate rates of fertilizers and liming, conservation tillage, increasing water use efciency, use of cover crops, weed control, use of appropriate crop rotation, safe disposal of animal waste materials, use of bacteria for pesticide degradation, and control of soil erosion.

Maintaining or Improving Soil Organic Matter at Desirable Level Soil organic matter (SOM) in agriculture soils consists of a mixture of plant, microbial, and insect residues; dissolved organic matter, and humic

2306 Table 1. Soil Property Bulk density Aggregation Inltration Slope Topsoil depth
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FAGERIA Selected Soil Properties Contributing to Soil Quality Process Affected Plant root penetration, water and air lled pore space, biological activity Soil structure, erosion resistance, crop emergence, inltration Runoff and leaching potential, plant water use efciency, erosion potential Water inltration, soil erosion, and cultivation practices Rooting volume for crop production, water, and nutrient availability Water inltration, crop growth, soil structure Nutrient availability, pesticide absorption, and mobility Nutrient cycling, pesticide and water retention, soil structure Capacity to support crop growth, environmental hazard Biological activity, nutrient cycling, capacity to degrade pesticides Nutrient uptake, pesticide adsorption, and water use efciency of crop plants

Conductivity or salinity pH Organic matter Available nutrients Microbial biomass Mineralogy

Source: Modied after Karlen et al.[14]

substances (HS).[37] It can be fractionated and analyzed as humic acid (HA), fulvic acid (FA), and humic. Humic substances are formed during microbial decomposition of plant litter.[38] To evaluate soil organic matter quality, Gregorich et al.[39] and Perie and Munson[40] proposed a number of indicators, including organic carbon (C), total nitrogen (N), soil carbohydrates, light fraction and macroorganic matter, microbial biomass C, and enzyme activities. With soil depth, SOM is mineralized and humied, resulting in a mixture of structurally identiable materials as plant residue macromolecules and HS.[37] The SOM status collaborates well with a number of important soils physical, chemical, and microbiological properties. As SOM increases, soil nutrients such as available N, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and micronutrients also increase.[41] Additionally, SOM binds soil particles to form stable aggregates that resist erosion and permit water to inltrate easily, thereby reducing erosion.[42] In adequate quantities, SOM reduces soil crusting and soil bulk density, and helps to maintain a stable soil pH. Overall, SOM improves soil structure and soil tilth, and it provides a favorable medium for crop growth.[43] Soil organic matter has a pronounced impact on the solubility and soil adsorption of metals. Prior research suggest that soil organic matter can either



enhance or inhibit adsorption, depending on other soil properties (pH, cationexchange capacity, competing ions, etc.).[44 47] Soil humic acids can increase adsorption, reducing both metal concentration and free metal activity. On the other hand, soil organic matter can increase dissolved organic matter and fulvic acid concentrations, which increase the total dissolved metals via complexation reactions in the soil solution, resulting in higher metal mobility.[48,49] Therefore, it is important to quantify the metal-adsorption capacity of soil organic matter relative to Fe oxides; it is also necessary to assess the extent that soil organic matter affects the adsorption properties of pedogenic iron (Fe) oxides.[47] Appropriate sources of organic matter are cattle and calf manures (composted), urban waste transformed into compost, and green manures. The application of farmyard manure (FYM) has been reported to improve soil physical and chemical conditions and to help conserve soil moisture.[50,51] One time application of FYM (10 15 t ha21) increased wheat yields for up to three successive crop cycles, when applied in conjunction with inorganic N fertilizers under hot and humid conditions in Bangladesh.[52] Badruddin et al.[53] also reported that application of FYM (10 t ha21) gave the highest wheat yield response (14%) and approximately equivalent levels NPK gave the lowest (5.5%), suggesting that organic fertilizer provided growth factors in addition to nutrient content. Composting manure produces a stabilized product that can be stores or spread with little odor or y-breeding potential.[54] Other advantages of composting include killing pathogens and most weed seeds, and improving handling characteristics of manure by reducing volume and weight. Disadvantages of composting include nutrient loss, specically N, and requirements for time, money, equipment, and labor. Eghball et al.[55] found that as much as 40% of total beef feedlot manure N can be lost during composting, and signicant losses of K and sodium (Na) (. 6.5% of total K and Na) occur in runoff from composting windrows not protected from rainfall. Overall, benets of composting, however, more than disadvantages. Besides, intensively cropped systems may also slowly increase SOM content, thereby improving the long-term plant environment.[56] Soil organic matter provides many benets, however, it can also have negative environmental and crop production impacts. The negative impacts of organic matter are rarely discussed in the agricultural literature. Higher quantity of organic matter requires higher quantity of soil-incorporated pesticides.[57] As soil organic matter increases from about the 1 to 3% range to the 3 to 5% range, soil incorporated pesticide application rates needed for efcacy commonly rise 20 to 100%.[5] Soil sample clay fractions with 11% soil organic matter, had 68% of the atrazine sorption afnity in the organic fraction.[58,59] Negative impacts of increased pesticide loading are compounded by soil organic matter role in aggregation and macropore formation, bypass ow, and rapid transmittal of

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dissolved or soluble organically complexed surface applied contaminants to groundwater.[60,61] Complexing with soil humic fractions accelerated atrazine transport through soil.[62,63]

Organic and Biodynamic Management Organic agriculture disallows the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, relying instead on cultural, biological, or natural methods of pest control and fertility.[64] A growing number of studies show that organic farming leads to higher quality soil and more soil biological activity than conventional farming. Drinkwater et al.[65] documented higher pH, organic C and N, N mineralization potential, and actinomycete abundance, and diversity in organic elds as compared with conventionally managed elds. Other studies have found similar benets of organic soil management.[66 68] Biodynamic agriculture is a unique organic farming system that utilizes, in addition to the common tools of organic agriculture, specic fermented herbal preparations as compost additive and eld sprays.[64] These unique preparations consist of specic minerals or plants treated or fermented with animal organs, water, and/or soil.[69] The primary purpose of this additive is not to add nutrients, but to stimulate the processes of nutrient and energy cycling.[70] If the preparations affect nutrient cycling, they may have their effect via soil microorganisms that mediate much nutrient transformation. Because of its claimed reliance on benecial microbial activity and enhanced soil quality, biodynamic agriculture is a potential case study of biological soil quality.[64] Generally studies have found that biodynamically farmed soils have better soil quality than conventionally farmed soils.[71]

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Use of Adequate Rate of Liming and Essential Plant Nutrients Use of adequate rate of liming for acid soils and application of essential nutrients in an adequate rate are important management practices for improving crop yields and controlling soil quality. Liming increases soil pH of acid soils. Crops vary in their response to soil pH, responding to lime applications only if pH levels limit crop performance.[72,73] Further, increasing pH with lime application of acid soils reduces the solubility of most heavy metals. In addition, higher soil pH also increases the adsorption afnity of iron oxides, organic matter, and other adsorptive surfaces.[47] This practice can reduce the leaching heavy metals to ground water as well as their absorption by plants and consequently improve soil quality and human health.



Modern agriculture is characterized by an exponential increase in the use of N fertilizers.[74] Increased rates of N2O evolution by N fertilized soils are well documented in eld and laboratory studies.[75] Thus, the accelerated application of N fertilizers in crop production is regarded as a major reason for enhanced N2O release from soils, and agriculture is presently estimated to contribute 90% of total anthropogenic N2O emissions.[76] Under these situations, use of adequate rate N is an important component of precise agriculture and one of the most critical environmental challenges related to soil quality. Use of excess N may leach easily to ground water or pollute aquatic systems, often from soil source, may disrupt the balance in these systems and result in eutrophication, and eventually in decline of sh and other desirable aquatic populations. Nitrogen in the form of nitrates can lead to toxicity in both ruminant animals and human infants. For this reason, nitrate levels are monitored in wells, reservoirs, and other drinking water supplies. Like N, use of adequate rate of P is also important for improving crop yield and soil quality. Lack of adequate level of P in the soil may contribute to land degradation and subsequent water pollution in vast areas, mostly in the lesser-developed countries of tropical and subtropical regions. Phosphorus deciency often limits the growth of crops, and may even cause a crop failure, which force farmers to clear more land in order to survive. Without adequate phosphorus, regrowth of natural vegetation on disturbed forest and savanna sites is often too slow to prevent soil erosion and depletion of soil organic matter. Unless sources of available phosphorus can be added, growth of vegetation will be poor, and this may lead to even lower levels of soil productivity and a downward spiral of land degradation and water pollution.[77] On the other hand when P is applied in excess of crop requirement, the impact of agricultural P on surface and ground water quality is an issue of growing international concern, particularly in areas dominated by geographically intensive animal agriculture.[78] Laboratory and eld studies have shown that P losses by erosion, surface runoff, and leaching-lateral subsurface are greater when soil test P values are above the agronomically optimum range.[79 83] In the Mid-Atlantic states of the United States, a Mehlich 1 value of 20 mg P kg21 of soil was the soil test P level at 100% yield of corn, and 35 mg P kg21 was the soil test P level where no fertilizer is recommended.[83] In Ireland, for example, licensing programs for pigs and poultry now prohibit the application of animal wastes if soil test P (Morgan soils test) exceeds 15 mg P kg21.[84] In Brazil, Fageria et al.[85] determined 13 mg P kg21 (Mehlich 1) as an adequate level and 25 mg P kg21 high level of P applied as triple superphosphate for ooded rice grown on an Inceptisol of central Brazil. Gartley and Sims[86] reported that upper critical limits for soil test P varied from state to state in United States, but were typically between three to six times the value accepted as adequate for optimum crop yields. Soil P test is now used in some countries and the United States and is under consideration in others as a means to identify areas where P application in fertilizers and manures should be prohibited to protect water

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quality.[78,87] Like N and P, other nutrients can also create soil quality problem if applied in excess of crop demand. Conservation Tillage Tillage is well known to accelerate the loss of soil organic matter by increasing biological oxidation and often by increasing soil erosion.[88] Because of the decline in organic matter and associated soil quality, most tillage-based farming systems in dryland environments are not sustainable in the long term.[89] One option for maintaining and improving soil quality is reduce or eliminate tillage. The no-till or minimum tillage crop production system is becoming more common in various parts of the world and reported to be helpful in improving soil quality.[90] Soil protection from erosion losses, conservation of soil water by increased inltration and decreased evaporation, increased use of land too steep for conventional production, and reduction in fuel, labor, and machinery costs are among the reasons for increased use of reduced tillage systems.[91] A review by Steiner[69] demonstrated the value of residue management systems for conserving soil water through reduced soil water evaporation. No-tillage production results in changes in soil chemical and physical properties, including increases soil organic matter content,[92] aggregate stability,[93] and macroporosity.[94,95] Collectively and individually, these changes inuence plant growth.[96,97] The changes can be detrimental, neutral, or benecial for crop growth and yield, depending on soil texture and structure,[98] climatic factors such as rainfall,[99] and weed control.[100] In general, no-till systems have greater positive effects on crop growth and yield when used on soils characterized by low organic matter levels and poor structure, rather than on well-structured soils high in organic matter.[101] Enhancing Water-Use Efciency Increasing water use efciency is vitally important in meeting the food and ber needs for rapidly expanding world population and maintaining soil quality at an appropriate level. Water use efciency (WUE) can be dened as a given level of biomass or grain yield per unit of water used by the crop.[102] Due to scarcity of water resources, improving water use efciency is an important issue in rainfed as well as irrigated agriculture. Rainfed agriculture remains the dominant crop and forage production system throughout the world, and the stability of food and ber production requires that we increase precipitation use efciency. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between precipitation use efciency and WUE. Precipitation use efciency is a measure of the biomass or grain yield produced per increment of precipitation while is based on evapotranspiration.[102]

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Water-use efciency can be improved through soil and plant management practices. A survey of the literature reveals a large variation in measured WUE across a range of climates, crops, and soil management practices. It is possible to increase WUE by 25 to 40% through soil management practices that involve tillage.[102] Increasing water storage within the soil prole is necessary to increase plant available soil water. Tillage roughens the soil surface and breaks apart any soil crust. These leads to increased water storage by increased inltration into soil as well as increased soil water losses by evaporation. Increasing crop residue or adopting conservation tillage or minimum tillage increases soil water availability and affects crop growth and yield. Greb[103] found that residue and mulches reduce soil water evaporation by reducing soil temperature, impeding vapor diffusion, absorbing water vapor onto mulch tissue, and reducing the wind speed gradient at the soil atmosphere interface. Sauer et al.[104] found that the presence of residue on the surface reduced soil water evaporation by 34 to 50%. Overall, precipitation use efciency can be enhanced through adoption of more intensive cropping systems in semiarid environments and increased plant populations in more temperate and humid environment. Improved soil management practices that increase the organic matter content of the soil would have a positive impact on the soil water holding capacity. Hudson[105] showed that over a wide range of soils, there was an increase in water availability with increases in soil organic matter. Modifying nutrient management practices can increase WUE by 15 to 25%.[102] The soil nutrient status has been shown to have a positive impact on WUE. Relationships between nutrients and WUE were rst described by Viets.[106] Increases in WUE come from improved plant growth and yield that are a result of a proper soil nutrient status. Davis and Quick[107] stated that cultivar selection could be made for improved WUE based on an understanding of the role of nutrient management on photosynthetic rate, yield, rooting characteristics, and transpiration. In the Sahel (Africa), Payne[108] found that the WUE of pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.] was improved through the combination of N management and increased plant populations. Crop growth in commercial situations usually requires maximizing grain yield on limited available water resources, which results in maximizing the ratio of yield to evaporation.[109] Under these situations some plant traits may be useful in improving water use efciency. Of the many traits studied, including osmotic adjustment, only those factors reecting a reduction in the days to ower, which apparently allowed as escape of drought stress in this environment, were associated with the yield increase.[109] Jordan et al.[110] found that deeper rooting would clearly increase crop yield, while earlier maturity and osmotic adjustment had little or no benet. Similarly, Jones and Zur[111] showed that an increased soil volume occupied by roots was the most effective adaptive mechanism for increasing growth during simulation of a 10 days cycle. Experimental evidence

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from sorghum has shown that the water extraction depth of a drought tolerant cultivar was at least 40 cm deeper than a cultivar that lacked tolerance.[112] These authors also found that the leaf area produced by a drought tolerant cultivar of sorghum was only about 45% of that produced by a cultivar that lacked tolerance. Decreasing radiation use efciency results in decreased crop growth and consequently, a decreased transpiration rate so that the development of a possible soil water decit is delayed or avoided.[113] A long period of grain growth results in soil water loss that could subject the crop to severe water decits. Therefore, yield might be enhanced in water-limited situations if the rate of grain growth is increased and the duration of grain growth is shortened. Ehdaie[114] showed that there was a negative association between yield and the length of the period from anthesis to maturity among eight wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cultivars grown under water decit conditions. Importance of improving water use efciency is not only under rainfed conditions but enhancing water use efciency under irrigated conditions is also important from soil quality point of view. Irrigated agriculture is a vital component of total agriculture and supplies many of the fruits, vegetables, and cereal foods by humans; the grains fed to animals that are used as human food; and the feed to sustain animals for work in many parts of the world. Howell[115] suggested that the main pathways for enhancing WUE in irrigated agriculture are to increase the output per unit of water (engineering and agronomic management aspects), reduce losses of water to unusable sinks, reduce water degradation (environmental aspects), and reallocate water to higher priority uses (social aspects). Similarly, Seckler[116] summarized improving water use efciency in irrigated agriculture by increasing the output per unit of evapotranspiration (essentially WUE), reducing losses of usable water to sinks, reducing water pollution (from sediments, salinity, nutrients, and other agrochemical), and reallocating water from lower valued to higher valued uses.

Use of Cover Crops Careful cover crop management in a cropping system may allow farmers to maximize dry matter yield and N accumulation for the subsequent crop.[117] The C/N ratio of the cover crop residue has been shown to affect N availability to the following crop.[118] Therefore, grass cover crops pose a risk of short-term n immobilization because of their wide C/N ratio (. 25:1).[119,120] Legumes can be used as cover crops to avoid this problem. They can x biological nitrogen and minimize the potential for short term N immobilization.[118] Growing cover crops after sweet corn harvest have been reported to absorb residual soil N and minimized NO3-N losses of fertilizer in gravitational water.[121 123] The use of cover crops during fallow land may provide a variety of benets also and can improve soil quality. Legume cover crops can replace



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fertilizer N,[124,125] minimize soil erosion,[126] maintain soil organic matter and improve soil structure,[127,128] as well as reduce weed density and biomass.[129,130] Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.), and subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.) have been shown to reduce weed density and dry weight of early season weeds.[131,132] The weed suppression effects of cover crops can reduce use of herbicides and hence reducing cost of crop production for the growers as well as improve soil quality. There are a number of mechanisms responsible for the effect of cover crops on weeds. The living cover crop can reduce light[133] and moisture available to fall germinating seeds. Cover crop residue can modify the conditions under which weeds germinate or regrow in the spring. Such effects could be due to changes in soil temperature, increase in soil moisture, release of allelopathic chemicals and physical impediments to weed seedlings.[134,135]

Weed Control Weed control measures are divided into mechanical, chemical, and biological. However, chemical control or use of herbicides is dominant practice in modern agriculture. No doubt, herbicides have improved weed control and contributed substantially to yield increases of annual crops around the world.[136] However, the extensive use of herbicides can led to problems with drift injury to the other crops,[137] water pollution,[138] and deteriorates soil quality. Further, the repeated use of a limited number of herbicides has led to the development of resistant weed species in many crops. For example, biotypes of watergrass, the most economically important weed in California rice, have been found with resistance to most of the grass herbicides currently available for use in California.[139,140] Several management practices other than chemical control can be used to reduce weed infestation and soil quality deterioration can be reduced or eliminated. These include weed-free seed, crop rotation, land leveling, water management (especially in ooded rice), and fertilizer management.[136] In addition, cultivars have been identied that interfere with weed growth in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), rice (Oryza sativa L.), and other crops.[141 144] This is an important practice and discovery for weed control and maintaining soil quality if put into practice.

Use of Appropriate Crop Rotation Use of appropriate crop rotation is an important strategy in maintaining good soil quality. Relative to monoculture, cereal yield benets are realized when cereals are planted in rotation with legumes[145 148] and these benets are



achieved at a lower optimum N application rate.[149,150] Due to the symbiotic association between soybean and Bradyrhizobia, soybean can convert atmospheric N2 to NH3 in its root nodules. Amounts, converted in commercial soybean production in the United States, range from 75 to 300 kg N ha21.[151] The N xed in this way reduces N requirement of succeeding cereal crop. This not only reduces cost of production but also reduce ground water contamination risk from N leaching. Environmental benets are reported by including soybean in crop rotation.[152] Owens et al.[153] measured substantial reductions in NO2 N 3 concentration in the percolate from 6 years of a corn soybean rotation compared with previous years of continuous corn. The rotational effect of legume crops has been attributed in part to improved soil physical properties.[154] Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is the most frequent perennial legume in rotation with corn in the north-central states in the United States.[155] Improved soil structural stability under alfalfa stands has been reported by several authors.[156 158] Both alfalfa roots and shoots contribute to fresh organic matter inputs into the soil prole, which promotes soil aggregation.[158] Alfalfa root systems have been reported to increase the saturated hydraulic conductivity of soils free of previous root channels.[158,159] Meek et al.[160] observed a six-fold increase of saturated hydraulic conductivity when compacted sandy loams were planted with alfalfa. Mitchell et al.[161] reported that alfalfa root system have the ability to increase the saturated hydraulic conductivity of swelling soils. Fahad et al.[162] reported that continuous soybean [(Glycine max (L.) Merr] cropping resulted in less water retention, lower cumulative water inltration, and decreased soil aggregate stability compared with values measured under corn (Zea mays L.)soybean and grain sorghum [(Sorghum biocolor (L.) Moench]soybean rotational systems. Baird and Benard[163] and Young et al.[164] claim that crop rotations tend to control plant parasitic nematode populations, whereas Boquet et al.[165] suggested that the reduction in disease is a vital factor. In cornwheat (Triticum aestivum L.)soybean and sorghumsoybean rotation sequences, crop yields were enhanced and Johnsongrass [Sorghum halapense (L.) Pers.] was effectively controlled during the soybean sequence.[166] Roder et al.[167] found that soybean root densities at most sample depths were greater when the previous crop was grain sorghum rather the soybean. Wesley et al.[168] also showed that biennial rotation of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) with grain sorghum increased yields and net returns from the cotton and soybean components in the rotation. Crop rotation with marigold (Tagetes patula L.) effectively controls from root-lesion nematodes.[169] Marigold residues and their extracts are reportedly toxic to a variety of organisms, including nematodes,[170] fungi,[171] insects,[172,173] and help to minimize N loss and potential transfers to ground water.[174] From these studies it can be concluded that the crop rotation control diseases and weeds and can reduce use of fungicides and herbicides and improve soil health and quality.

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Safe Disposal of Animal Waste Materials Disposal of waste materials from concentrated animal production facilities without contamination of soil and water with high levels of inorganic nutrients has become a major environmental challenge in some regions of the United States.[175 179] Contamination of lakes, waterways, estuaries, and ground water with N and P as a result of surface runoff or leaching of nutrients from applied animal wastes[180 182] has been linked to toxic nitrate levels, eutrophication, destruction of aquatic habitat for sh and wildlife, creation of dead zones due to oxygen deprivation, and possibly outbreaks of diseases caused by human and animal parasites.[175,177,180] The principal method used for disposal of waste materials from concentrated animal production facilities is their application to croplands as fertilizer, and especially to forages that are grown for hay.[179] Waste-derived nutrients are absorbed from soil by food crops or forage crops, incorporated into tissues, and removed from the site when crop is harvested for grain or forage is harvested for hay.[177,179,182,183] A fundamental requirement for effective removal of excess nutrients from animal waste application site is that grain crop or grass crops must have the capacity to respond to nutrient applications with satisfactory growth and hay production.[179]

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Use of Bacteria for Pesticide Degradation Biodegradation by fungi and bacteria is the primary mechanism of atrazine attenuation in the environment.[184 186] The rates of biodegradation are inuenced by soil and sediment conditions, tillage practices, and application history.[187 190] Bound residue formation from atrazine in a soil environment and complexation with humic acids have also been reported.[63,191] Anaerobic degradation of atrazine by bacteria derived from freshwater sediments has also been reported.[192]

Control of Soil Erosion Water and wind erosion is important soil quality deterioration process on the agricultural lands around the world. This deterioration is due to removal of fertile soil layer, decrease rain water inltration, decrease soil depth, increase sedimentation of lake and dams, accelerate river ooding, fertile land is covered by sand dunes, and decrease soil productivity. Adopting appropriate erosion control measures can reverse or halt this soil quality deterioration process and hence maintain soil quality.



CONCLUSIONS Soil quality is the capacity of a specic kind of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation.[193] This means, the soil quality is an integral factor dening agricultural system productivity and maintaining environmental quality at a sustainable level. The quality of the environment resulting from an agricultural system is, in part, a product of the soils capability to absorb or eliminate harmful components that are associated with productive agricultural systems. In many agricultural areas, there is evidence that inappropriate agricultural land management has resulted in the deterioration of soil quality.[194] Improvement in soil quality should lead to an improvement of crop productivity, food safety, or environmental quality.[18] Improving soil physical, chemical and biological properties may improve soil quality. Better knowledge of appropriate soil and plant management practices is essential in order to maintain or improve soil quality in the agricultural system. Some important cultural practices for improving soil quality are discussed by adopting these management practices, it is possible to greater biomass and yield production, increased pollution abatement, decreased sedimentation, increased nutrient use efciency, and decreased use of energy in crop production.

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