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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Improve Soil Quality with New OSU Extension Tool

May 29, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Healthy soils means healthy plants, and a new Ohio State University Extension educational tool is now available to aid users in improving soil quality to boost crop performance.


The Soil Quality Workshop CD contains information outlining the fundamentals of soil quality and organic matter through various management practices, such as Integrated Pest Management. The CD educates users on the impacts of cover crops, tillage and compaction on soil quality and the benefits of maintaining healthy soils.

"This CD addresses the relationship between soil health and plant health to naturally manage pests. Healthy soils with a diverse community of organisms support plant health and nutrition better than soils deficient in organic matter and low in species diversity," said Alan Sundermeier, an OSU Extension educator for Wood County. "The purpose of the CD is to improve a user's perception of what is considered a quality soil."

Sundermeier said that the educational CD might prove beneficial for a variety of users, including farmers, crop consultants, ag businesses, ag educators, Master Gardeners, Extension educators and state and federal ag agency personnel. The CD contains lecture slides, video demonstrations of soil quality measurements and research-supported references.

"We have combined a wealth of fact-based information and Ohio research on soil quality in one resource tool," said Sundermeier. "The goal of this material was to bring together a variety of educational materials that are ready to use."

The Soil Quality Workshop CD also contains step-by-step instructions on how to use the OSU Extension Soil Quality Test Kit. The kit, developed by OSU Extension soil and water specialist Rafiq Islam, assesses soil organic matter for overall soil quality on-site.

"With this test anyone can monitor the quality of their soil right in the field and measure it over time based on what management practices they've applied," said Islam, a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "It's not meant to replace the commercial soil tests, but it's just another tool for farmers who can then conduct additional soil tests or consult professionals if they do have poor soil quality."

Soil organic matter is a core indicator of soil quality, and soil quality is usually characterized by high levels of active carbon. Active carbon includes microbial biomass, amino acids, soluble carbon and soil carbohydrates. Any changes in the levels of active carbon changes the level of organic matter, resulting in either a degradation or improvement in soil quality.

"Most organic matter is not active," said Islam. "So acquiring results from a test that also accounts for inactive carbon is not a very accurate assessment of soil quality. We needed a test that separated the active carbon from the rest of the soil content."

Islam said that the kit is cost effective, simple to use, and can be tested on a wide variety of soil types.

For more information on the Soil Quality Test Kit, contact Rafiq Islam at (740) 289-2071 or e-mail For more information on the Soil Quality Workshop CD, contact Alan Sundermeier at (419) 354-9050, or e-mail

The CD and the kit can be ordered online through the OSU Extension eStore at


Candace Pollock
Alan Sundermeier, Rafiq Islam