General | Soil biology | Soil health assessment tools
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (external link)
The Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture (AESA) Soil Quality Resource Monitoring Program was established in 1997. The program focuses on monitoring, extension, risk assessment, and science development in soil quality. The program has included several benchmark sites, aimed to determine the state of soil quality across Alberta and to determine the risk of change in soil quality with various management practices. Reports of the results of these benchmark sites are available on the website. The main page of this website was last updated in August 2008.
The Soil Quality Program of the Canada-Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Agreement (external link) also included benchmark sites, and fact sheets on wind erosion, water erosion and salinity can be found on the associated website. The website was last updated in March 2009.
United States Department of Agriculture – Soil Quality website (external link)
The USDA Soil Quality website contains several elements pertinent to this report. The website provides information sheets of several soil properties including aggregate stability, available water capacity, bulk density, infiltration, soil crusting, soil structure and slaking. The website also contains links to assessment guidelines, score cards, and the USDA soil health test kit. Some of the information available to download for the USDA soil health assessment includes:
The USDA Soil Quality website also details information relating to soil biology (external link), and includes some downloadable technical notes and references to other texts. Last updated June 2009.
Better Soils (external link)
Agricultural Bureau of South Australia developed the Better Soils website through the Better Soils Project in 1997. This website contains information in the form of text and images, grouped into Module topics including:
- ‘Guidelines for Soil Quality Assessment in Conservation Planning’ – 48 page PDF, January 2001.
- ‘Soil Quality Test Kit Guide Fact Sheet’ – 2 page PDF, March 2003.
- ‘Soil Quality Test Kit Guide’ – 88 page PDF, August 1999.
The website also includes many downloadable fact sheets on topics such as ‘Properties of a healthy soil’, ‘Does summer weed control save soil water?’ and ‘Root facts’. Links to many other national and South Australian web resources are also available at Better Soils.
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (external link)
The Australian Government’s web page on Soil Condition is managed by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Soil properties related to sustainable production and environmental protection are linked to the measurement of particular indicators for monitoring soil condition including:
- Module 1 - an overview of the characteristics of healthy soils, soil classification and erosion potential
- Module 2 - soil and crop nutrition
- Module 3 - soil and pasture nutrition
- Module 4 - soil biota and soil health
- Module 5 - management of soil moisture
- Module 6 - physical, chemical and biological barriers to effective root growth
“These indicators have been selected because they are simple, measurable, accurate, reliable and timely attributes, appropriate for collection at regional, state and national scales”.
New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (external link)
‘Soil health and fertility’ pages on the NSW DPI website provide information and downloadable documents on a wide range of topics, including:
- soil acidity (pH)
- soil organic carbon
- soil erosion by water
- soil erosion by wind
The website also includes a list of recent news releases.
Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water (QDNRW) (external link)
QDNRW (last updated April 2009) has a range of fact sheets relating to the recognition, extent and management of a range of land degradation issues such as erosion, acidification, compaction and salinity. There are also a number of fact sheets on acid sulphate soils.
Soil Quality (external link)
The University of Western Australia and the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia are the key contributors to this newly developed website through the ‘Healthy Soils for Sustainable Farms’ program. The website is authored by Soil Quality Pty Ltd (2009) and provides information in the form of downloadable fact sheets on several soil biology, chemistry and physics properties and issues.
A key element of this website is that it provides a tool to search by region and compare soils data (some biological, chemical and physical) within a local catchment. This website is currently populated for Western Australia only, but the intention is to develop this across Australia. There is some concern of the suitability of such a tool in states such as Victoria where soils are highly variable (in comparison to Western Australia’s generally deep sandy profiles).
The website also links to some Decision Support Tools (calculators) such as the Green Manure Calculator, Wheat Yield Potential Calculator, and the Lime Comparison Calculator.
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water (external link)
The web page of interest within the broader Tasmania DPIW website is ‘Land Management and Soils’. This page links to further information on salinity, soil resource assessment, and soil management. The soil management section is particularly pertinent to soil health, containing information on soil structure, salinity, irrigation, wet soils and integrated catchment management. The website also details options for managing soil health, providing some guidelines and information in the form of calendars (i.e. green manure calendar), calculators, and assessment procedures (i.e. ‘Looking for Compaction’ and ‘Testing if the Soil is Right to Rip’).
The website also offers some decision support to farmers as it details sampling and analyses procedures and considerations, “issues to consider”, timing and rates of application, “things to remember”, and “what to do?”
Information is only provided in the form on online text, tables and graphs, and is not available in a downloadable form (e.g. Fact sheets). Website last updated July 2009.
University of New England (external link)
The University of New England web page titled ‘Oz Soils v 3.0’ provides a downloadable demo version of the Oz Soils program. This program is designed as a classroom tool, providing an “interactive introduction to soil science”. The website does not provide any online information relating to soil health, but the Oz Soils tool is widely used throughout universities and teaching institutions for soil science.
- Fertilisers and soil improvement
- Soil types, structure and condition
- Soil biology
- Soil carbon
- Soil management guides
- Soil acidity
- Acid sulphate soils
- Sodic soils
- Soil erosion
- Testing and assessing soil
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The NSW Department of Primary Industries website provides an information series on soil biology basics (external link).
The publication Soil Biology in Agriculture (external link) contains the proceedings of a workshop on current research into soil biology in agriculture, which was held at the Tamworth Sustainable Farming Training Centre on 11–12 August 2004. The workshop was organised by NSW Department of Primary Industries.
The Soil Biology and Land Management Technical Note (external link) is available for download on the United States Department of Agriculture website.
The Soil Biodiversity Portal (external link) within the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website provides information on soil biodiversity and the agricultural context; integrated soil biological management, and the 'soil biodiversity initiative'.
Soil Health (external link)
This website simply named Soil Health is funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and is headed by Professor Lyn Abbott of the University of Western Australia. The website focuses on soil biology, but does include some brief information on soil chemistry and physics with the intention to develop these components of the website in the future. Topics include soil fungi, organic matter, roots, bacteria, animals and soil fertility. The information is presented as web text only and not as downloadable documents. The website also link to downloadable newsletters titled ‘Soils are Alive’, however these have not been updated since 2005. The website was last updated in 2008.
Professor Lyn Abbott is also the chief of the Australian Soil Club (external link). This club and its associated website have been “established to develop a national network of land managers and others interested in increasing their knowledge of soils and sustainable land management practices”. The website contains some information and photographs of soil types.
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Soil Health Assessment Tools
Cornell University Soil Health (external link)
The Cornell Soil Health website includes some basic definitions and information on soil health including ‘What is soil health?’ and ‘Why is soil health important?’ The website promotes the Cornell Soil Health Manual (various components of the Cornell Soil Health Manual in Appendix 1), a resource found to be very useful by the DPI Healthy Soils Team.
Landcare Research New Zealand (external link)
SINDI (soil indicators) is a web-based tool designed to help you interpret the quality or health of a soil you have sampled. Ten indicators have been selected to characterise the intrinsic resources, and biological, chemical and physical properties of a soil. SINDI allows you to:
The webpage clearly states that SINDI and the indicators used by the tool are not intended as a basis for fertiliser requirements, and that the indicators themselves to not measure soil quality. “Soil quality is a value judgement about how suitable a soil is for a particular use”. The website does not contain any supporting material on what soil quality is, or any downloadable information on the properties used as indicators of soil quality. The links to the Landcare Research New Zealand pages that may contain this information are currently broken.
- compare your soil with information from our soils database
- assess the intrinsic resources and biological, chemical and physical quality of your soil
- see how your soil measures up against current understanding of optimal values
- learn about the effect each indicator has on soil quality and some general management practices that could be implemented to improve the soil
United States Department of Agriculture – Soil Health Test Kit (external link)
NSW Department of Agriculture - SoilPAK (external link)
SOILpak is a particular resource of the NSW DPI that is available from the website in a downloadable form. SOILpak is intended for managers who want to learn more about how to manage their soil, and consultants and extension officers who wish to become more skilled in advising their clients on soil management. By following the link ‘Soil management guides’ on the website, SOILpak is available for:
Toxicities and Deficiencies
The Publication: Trace Elements for Pastures and Animals in Victoria was prepared by W.J Hosking, I.W Caple, C.G Halpin, A.J Brown, D.I Paynter, D.N Conley and P.L North-Coombes of the former Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in 1986. This publication provided a review of the then state of knowledge about the role of trace elements in Victorian grazing enterprises. It provides an important source of information of interest to a wide audience. The review also includes an extensive bibliography of both published and unpublished reports on trace element research work conducted by the former Department, as well as other published papers relevant to Victoria at that time.
- cotton growers
- dryland farmers on the red soil of Central Western NSW
- northern wheat belt
- southern dryland farmers
- southern irrigators
- vegetable growers