Soil health and soil quality

Soil health and soil quality are broad concepts that describe the state of the soil and whether a soil is well suited to how it is being used. The two terms are often used interchangeably although some maintain there is a difference between the two.

This section dives into our research on soil health and resilience, how soil quality/soil health is being monitored in New Zealand, and what conclusions we can draw from this for national soil health.

Defining soil health

A good attempt at defining the concept of soil health and soil quality is “the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans". 

Soil quality is generally used in a more land-use specific context, for instance a good soil quality for forestry may be a poor soil quality for dairy. It’s can therefore be important to ask: ‘Soil quality…for what? Whereas soil health more broadly refers to the condition of the soil and whether the soil has been degraded.

Soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties are all linked to soil quality and soil health, and no one property alone can describe a soil’s state. Soil fertility, amount of organic matter (humus), soil aeration and structure, and the biological life of a soil are all part of its quality and health. Because different soil types have different properties, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ soils. Soils are either suited or unsuited to specific crops or products. The soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties can however be degraded if the soil resource is not well looked after.

Soil and ecosystem health
Soil quality monitoring in NZ
The state of New Zealand soils

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