Making soil health science practical: guiding research for agronomic and environmental benefits

Stephen A. Wood, Joseph C. Blankinship

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Defining what makes a “good” soil has long been of interest to soil scientists. Over the years, several conceptual frameworks have emerged to serve this purpose: tilth, soil fertility, soil quality, soil security, and soil health. There has been a growing body of research assessing how various management practices impact indicators of “good” soils. We argue that the growing body of research on soil health parameters has advanced our knowledge of how these indicators respond to land management, but produced little insight into how lands should be managed to increase environmental and agronomic benefits. We believe this lack of insight is due to under-emphasis of several knowledge areas: Is an increase in a soil health property good or bad? How much do desirable outcomes change when a soil property changes, and is the relationship between the two linear? Can land management change soil indicators by a sufficient magnitude to cause the desired change in outcome? And, what new indicators are needed to enable innovation in agricultural systems? Innovation in soil health measurements is important because the lack of practical insight into how to manage land risks dampening enthusiasm and innovation about the role soils can play in transitioning to sustainable food systems; it means that policy & practice risks moving forward without a strong evidence base.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108776
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Boundary object
  • Soil health
  • Soil health indicator
  • Soil health test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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