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Graduate student describing soils profile

Dynamic Soil Properties for Soil Health – #DSP4SH

Through the Science of Soil Health initiative, cooperators are collecting dynamic soil properties (DSPs). A common set of soil health metrics will be collected across regions and soils and linking the information gathered to soil survey DSP databases and products.

Researchers evaluate surface conditions in a no-till corn field.

Science of Soil Health Initiative

Soil health has become an increasingly important area of emphasis in land management, particularly agricultural land management, within NRCS, in the larger scientific community, and with the general public. As interest in soil health management continues to increase, so does the need for consistent, replicable, scientifically sound indicators, associated data, and interpretations that will allow for the assessment and monitoring of how agricultural management practices are affecting soil health. The Science of Soil Health Initiative seeks to gather, process, and disseminate scientifically rigorous data for these purposes.

Dynamic Soil Properties for Soil Health – #DSP4SH

map showing area of interest
The rancher’s sample is represented by the star, with 25% aggregate stability. The interpretation of that value depends on the kind of soil. In a sandy Amarillo soil, 25% is very good for any land use. In a Kirkland soil, 25% is good for a tilled soil, but is far below a typical rangeland. The rancher on a Kirkland soil should evaluate their management plan and consider applying conservation methods to avoid rangeland degradation and a loss of forage production.

Soil Health Process

  • Soil Structural Stability
    • Indicator/Property – Infiltration, Aggregate Stability
  • Organic Matter Cycling & C Sequestration
    • Indicator/Property – Soil Organic Carbon
  • General Microbial Activity
    • Indicator/Property – Soil Respiration, Soil Enzymes
  • Carbon Food Source
    • Indicator/Property – Active Carbon (Permanganate Oxidizable Carbon, POXC)
  • Bioavailable Nitrogen
    • Indicator/Property – Available Organic Nitrogen
  • Microbial Community Composition
    • Indicator/Property – Community Structure (PLFA)

Method Sources

Stott, D.E. 2019. Recommended Soil Health Indicators and Associated Laboratory Procedures. Soil Health Technical Note No. 450-03. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Soil Survey Staff. 2014. Soil Survey Field and Laboratory Methods Manual. Soil Survey Investigations Report No. 51, Version 2.0. R. Burt and Soil Survey Staff (ed.). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Cooperating Institutions

map of US

Alabama A&M Univ.
• Deidrick Davis

Chico State Univ.
• Garret Liles

Kansas State Univ.
• Savanna Crossman
• Laura Starr
• Peter Tomlinson
• DeAnn Presley
• Charles Rice

North Carolina State Univ.
• Caitlin Caudle
• Deanna Osmond
• Josh Heitman

Oregon State Univ.
• Regina O’Kelley
• David Myrold

Texas A&M Agrilife Research
• Katie Lewis
• Paul DeLuane

Univ. of Arizona
• Joseph Blankinship
• Kirsten Ball

Univ. of Connecticut
• Huijie Gan
• Carl Gulliard

Univ. of Hawaii
• Susan Crow
• Elain Vizka
• Jonathon Deenik

Univ. of Illinois
• Carmen Ugarte

Univ. of Maryland Eastern Shore
• Aurthur Allen
• Amy Collick
• Fawzy Hashem

Univ. of Minnesota
• Sharon Perrone
• Julie Grossman

Univ. of Missouri
• Donna Brandt
• Kristen Veum (ARS)

Univ. of North Dakota
• Brian Darby

Univ. of Texas – Rio Grande Valley
• Alex Racelis
• Stephanie Kasper
• Luzyannet Ballesteros

Univ. of Wisconsin
• Laura Adams
• Francisco Arriaga

Washington State Univ.
• Issac Madsen
• Katherine Naasko
• Haying Tao
• Bill Pan

Graduate student describing soils profile
Chico State University (CA) graduate student marks genetic soil horizons. Sample were collected by depth increments common in agronomic tests and genetic horizons which are used by soil survey.

Expected Outcomes

  • List of relevant DSPs and reference values that can be used to assess soil health status by soils under different management systems
  • Data (measurements) and information (interpretations) for a standard set of DSPs on one or more benchmark soils and soil landscapes to be included in national soil and ecological site databases maintained by NRCS
  • Recommendations for conservation planning and conservation effects assessment 

Current Output

Preliminary Results Summary

  • Methods require further standardization before they are appropriate for commercialization across regions and soils
  • Impact of soil health management varies by soil and institution
    • Climate, texture and crops grown influences management effects
  • Perennial vegetation had significant and meaningfully better values for all properties evaluated thus far
  • Differences between crop management systems are limited and applicable only within individual soils evaluated
initial analysis of samles.
Initial Analysis of Samples sent to KSSL for the upper approximately 3 inches of soil across all institutions. The bars represent the typical range of values in perennial vegetation, no-tillage cropping systems and business as usual cropping systems. The perennial vegetation is reliably higher, though not always significantly so. There is no observed difference between no-till and typical tillage systems. Aggregate stability (measured as % of aggregates that are stable in water after shaking) is nearly always higher in perennial systems; no-till is often greater than typical tillage but not always. The other enzyme and carbon analysis show a great deal of overlap between all systems evaluated.

Virtual Symposium


color book page
Cores taken to evaluate a pasture soil at a North Carolina State University research and demonstration farm. Munsell color was determined for each layer to link soil health indicators to observations made by soil survey.