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Soil Conditioning Index

Is your operation moving in the right direction in terms of soil health? An analysis called the Soil Conditioning Index can give you a peek into the future.

Kevin Kuhn is a resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He says this is a tool that predicts the consequences of cropping systems and tillage practices on soil organic matter. It analyzes three factors.

"It looks at a biomass component, so, that’s really looking at how much carbon are we putting back into the soil. It looks at field operations," says Kuhn. "When we think about organic matter breakdown, it’s affected by the temperature, moisture, oxygen, and field operations affects that oxygen. When we till that soil it oxidizes it, and it reduces that organic matter in that soil. And then the third factor it looks at is erosion."

He says a computer system will generate the soil conditioning index number which ranges from a positive-one to a negative-one. A negative value means organic matter levels are predicted to decline under that production system. If the value is positive, organic matter levels are predicted to increase.

The results are shared with the landowner and they’ll discuss ways to improve the score.

"The first one is long-term no-till. When we can get a long-term no-till system in place, that’s going to decrease our soil loss, it’s going to increase our infiltration, increase our soil structure. We’re not going to be aerating that soil so we’re going to keep the soil in place."