U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Document Type


Date of this Version



Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 63 (5) Sept/Oct 2008.


Various soil management or quality assessment tools have been proposed to evaluate the effects of land management practices on soil, air, and water resources. Two of them are the Soil Management Assessment Framework and the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI). This study was conducted to test the hypothesis that the Soil Quality Index (SQI) estimated by the Soil Management Assessment Framework can detect more minute changes in soil management than SCI and to test SCI response to other soil quality (SQ) indicators. These SQ indexes were tested on irrigated cropping systems near Fort Collins, Colorado, that included no-till and conventionally-tilled corn (Zea mays L.), and no-till corn with rotations including barley (Hordeum distichon L.), soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.), and dry bean (Phaeseolus vulgaris L.) at three levels of nitrogen varying from 0 to 224 kg N ha–1 (0 to 200 lb ac–1). Both SQ indexes clearly separated the plots with very high levels of N from plots with no N. However, for SQI the mid-level of N was statistically the same as both extreme levels. Statistical differences were observed among all N levels for the SCI. The SQI seemed to make more detailed differentiation among crop management systems than the SCI. The SCI separated the cropping systems into three groups with no overlap among groups. All no-till systems had the statistically same higher SCI than the conventionally-tilled continual corn system. The SQI separated the cropping systems into three groups with decreasing SQI as tillage intensity increased and as lower residue crops were introduced into the cropping system. The systems that included tillage and a low residue crop (soybean) had the lowest SQI. The SQI allowed overlap among cropping groups not recognized by SCI. Selection of the most appropriate SQ index seems to be a tradeoff between data requirements, resolution required, and the desired use of the evaluation tool.