Recent interest in evaluating the quality of our soil resources has been stimulated by increasing awareness that soil is a critically important component of the earth’s biosphere, functioning not only in the production of food and fiber but also in the maintenance of local, regional, and worldwide environmental quality. A recent call for development of a soil health index was stimulated by the perception that human health and welfare is associated with the quality and health of soils (Haberern, 1992). However, an international conference on assessment and monitoring of soil quality identified that defining and assessing soil quality and health is complicated by the need to consider the multiple functions of soil and to integrate the physical, chemical, and biological soil attributes that define soil function (Papendick & Parr, 1992; Rodale Inst., 1991). The alarming paucity of information on biological indicators of soil quality and methods for integrating physical, chemical, and biological soil properties with soil management practices to assess soil quality led to this special publication, Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment.

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss approaches to defining and assessing soil quality and to suggest one possible form for a soil quality index.

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