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Defining, Measuring, and Applying Soil Quality: An Unresolved Debate

Salvador Ramirez, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Paradigm shifts occur periodically in the sciences. Proposed paradigm shifts offer opportunities to reexamine extant paradigms and evaluate new ones. Soil science experienced a controversy resembling a proposed paradigm shift in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it grappled with the idea of soil quality (SQ). The most contentious points in the SQ debates were (1) the word “quality” itself and designing a functional definition, (2) identifying appropriate soil quality indicators, (3) the integration of soil quality indicators, and (4) the interpretation of soil quality indicators. The latter three disagreements were rooted in the established, fundamental, soil science paradigm. The latter three were argued using inherent and dynamic soil properties and the statistical integration of those properties. Defining SQ, however, was much more complicated. While the ‘quality soil management vs soil quality management’ debates of the late 1990s were never resolved, the terms SQ and subsequent term soil health (SH) are still used today. Soil quality and SH have been institutionalized by several groups, including the U.S. government, private industry, and academic institutions. The concept should not be erased from the soil science vernacular. However, if the scientific community is to continue to use these terms, these concepts, and the debates of the late 1990s, must be revisited.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Ramirez, Salvador, "Defining, Measuring, and Applying Soil Quality: An Unresolved Debate" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13862372.