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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 94 No. 1, p. 38-47
    Received: May 22, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): carterm@em.agr.ca
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Soil Quality for Sustainable Land Management

  1. Martin R. Carter *
  1. Agric. and Agri-Food Canada, 440 Univ. Ave., Charlottetown, PE, C1A 4N6 Canada


Soil quality concepts are commonly used to evaluate sustainable land management in agroecosystems. The objectives of this review were to trace the importance of soil organic matter (SOM) in Canadian sustainable land management studies and illustrate the role of SOM and aggregation in sustaining soil functions. Canadian studies on soil quality were initiated in the early 1980s and showed that loss of SOM and soil aggregate stability were standard features of nonsustainable land use. Subsequent studies have evaluated SOM quality using the following logical sequence: soil purpose and function, processes, properties and indicators, and methodology. Limiting steps in this soil quality framework are the questions of critical limits and standardization for soil properties. At present, critical limits for SOM are selected using a commonly accepted reference value or based on empirically derived relations between SOM and a specific soil process or function (e.g., soil fertility, productivity, or erodibility). Organic matter fractions (e.g., macro-organic matter, light fraction, microbial biomass, and mineralizable C) describe the quality of SOM. These fractions have biological significance for several soil functions and processes and are sensitive indicators of changes in total SOM. Total SOM influences soil compactibility, friability, and soil water-holding capacity while aggregated SOM has major implications for the functioning of soil in regulating air and water infiltration, conserving nutrients, and influencing soil permeability and erodibility. Overall, organic matter inputs, the dynamics of the sand-sized macro-organic matter, and the soil aggregation process are important factors in maintaining and regulating organic matter functioning in soil.

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Copyright © 2002. American Society of AgronomyPublished in Agron. J.94:38–47.