Assessing Soil Quality for Sustainable Agricultural Systems in
Assessing Soil Quality for Sustainable Agricultural Systems in Tropical Countries
Using Spectroscopic Methods
B. Jintaridth1, P.P. Motavalli1, K.W. Goyne1, and R.J. Kremer2
Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 USA
USDA-ARS, Columbia, MO 65211 USA
Materials and Methods
Soil quality assessment is a process by which soil
resources are evaluated on the basis of soil function.
The need for an effective, low-cost method to evaluate
soil quality is important in developing countries
because soil degradation is a major impediment to
sustainable crop growth. Soil organic matter (SOM)
or soil organic C (SOC) is an important indicator of
soil quality (Gregorich et al., 1994) because it affects
many plant growth factors, including water-holding
capacity and long-term nutrient availability. In
general, SOC varies across landscapes, soil types
and climatic zones and is characterized by both labile
and recalcitrant or humified forms.
There are many techniques that measure the size
and turnover time of SOC pools to evaluate soil
quality in the laboratory or the field to help guide
sustainability of agricultural management practices.
Among these methods are several spectroscopic
procedures which are rapid and relatively low-cost.
The KMnO4 method developed by Weil (2003) has
been adapted for field use and measures a labile C
fraction. Near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy has also
been adapted for field use and could provide a rapid
method to measure soil C fractions (Shepherd et al.,
2007). Another technique which has been studied is
the use of diffuse reflectance infrared Fouriertransformed (DRIFT) mid-infrared spectroscopy which
can identify labile and recalcitrant C in soil (Ding et
al., 2002). However, many of these techniques have
not been assessed under a wide range of soil types
and cropping systems.
2. This project also has an objective of assessing
community perceptions of soil quality, but this
information is not presented in this poster.
Soil samples were collected in 2008 from depths of
0-10 and 10-20 cm from two locations near
Columbia, Missouri, USA.
The sites included Sanborn Field (Fig. 1), a longterm research site that has been continuously
cultivated since 1888.
Plots sampled in Sanborn Field have been
supporting continuous corn crops (Zea mays. L.)
and include treatments of:
T1: conventional tillage, full fertilizer treatment
T2: no-till, full fertilizer treatment
T3: conventional tillage, no fertilizer treatment
T4: conventional tillage, manure treatment
Tucker Prairie (T5), a native prairie site in Missouri
that represents the undisturbed soil found in
Sanborn Field prior to initial cultivation. It is
dominated by bluestem grasses.
Fig. 1. Sanborn Field
(Columbia, MO USA)
Two communities (San Juan Circa and San Jos) in
the Umala Municipality (Fig. 2 A-B) of the Central
Highland (Altiplano) region of Bolivia (Fig. 3 A-B)
were selected as study sites in 2006.
Soil samples were collected from farm fields from
a depth of 0-20 cm.
Soil samples were taken from fields with 1, 10, 20,
30 and > 40 years of fallow.
Jos de Llanga
Fig. 8 A-C. Predicted vs. measured POMC (%)
content of 30 soil samples from Sanborn Field.
Fig. 3 A-B. Location of the study communities and villages
in the Altiplano of Bolivia.
Based on farmer surveys in the Bolivian
communities, the major soils-related constraints to
plant growth are:
Low soil quality and soil fertility (low soil nutrient
content, high clay content and stoniness)
Excessive water and wind-induced soil erosion
Insufficient soil moisture due to lower rainfall
Inadequate soil management practices (In
appropriate tractor tillage practices, lack of a
suitable crop, rotation strategy, insufficient soil
fertility inputs, and overgrazing by sheep).
All samples were analyzed using spectroscopic
methods in the field and in the lab.
Visible range spectroscopy (VIS), using potassium
permanganate (KMnO4), was utilized with a
portable field spectrometer (550 nm) and field
chart to analyze labile C (Fig. 4 A-C).
Near infrared range spectroscopy (NIR) was
conducted using a portable field NIR spectrometer
(Fig. 4 D-E).
Diffuse Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared
Analysis (DRIFT) was conducted using midinfrared
spectroscopy (Fig. 4 F).
Escala del Indice de Calidad de Suelos
Tabla de campo sobre Calidad de Suelos
Fig. 4 A-F. (A) KMnO4,
(B) Portable field spectrometer
(550 nm), (C) Field chart, (D-E)
Portable field spectrometer (NIR),
(F) MIR spectrometer
Fig. 5 A-E. Mean values for bulk
density (g.cm3), KMnO4 (mg.kg-1),
water soluble C (mg.L-1), particulate
OC (%), and total C (%). The same
lower-case letter (0-10 cm.) and the
same upper-case letter (10-20 cm.)
do not differ significantly by LSD (p
The undisturbed prairie soil had the lowest bulk density (Db)
(0.74 g.cm-3) compared to cultivated plots at the 0-10 and 10-20
cm depths (Fig. 5 A). The treatment whose soil contained the
highest Db was conventional tillage and no fertilizer (1.23 g .cm-3) .
Labile C, or active C pools, (using the KMnO4 or water-soluble C
methods) showed the highest results in Tucker Prairie compared
to conventional tillage and no-till in Sanborn Field.
Solucin KMnO4 despus de agitarlo con el suelo
Fig. 2 A-B. Fallow vegetation has an important role in
(A) grazing for sheep, and (B) a source of fuel for
San Juan Cerca
I. Sanborn Field
I. U.S.A (Sanborn Field and Tucker Prairie, Missouri)
1. To determine the use of spectroscopic-based (i.e.
near-infrared, mid-infrared, and visible range)
analytical methods to evaluate soil organic matter
fractions and soil quality in degraded and nondegraded soils in a wide range of environments.
Evaluating SOC with NIR
The no-till treatment on Sanborn Field had more labile C (or
active C) than the conventional tillage treatments including both
fertilized and manured plots (Fig. 5 B-C).
Fig. 6 A-D Determination of soil organic carbon
fractions [ A) water soluble C (mg.L-1), B) KMnO4
(mg.kg-1), C) POM-C (%) and D) total C (%)] in two
Bolivian communities in the Central Altiplano.
The results for the soil organic C fraction
for the soils from Bolivia (Fig. 6 A-D) show
Soil organic C increased with increasing
fallow length or was higher in the uncropped
land (Fig 6D).
Labile C, water soluble C, and total C in San
Juan Circa were higher than in San Jos.
These results suggest that other factors such
as fallow vegetation, or soil properties affect
SOC during the fallow period.
Effects of fallow vegetation may be important
for restoration of soil fertility during the fallow
The NIR analysis was conducted to
develop a comparison between three soil C
fractions (POM-C, KMnO4 and total C) and
near infrared spectra results (700-2500 nm).
A total of 30 soil samples were collected
from the 0-10 and 10-20 cm depths. The
number of data points was 90. Partial least
square analysis was used to build
prediction models with a calibration data
set of 10 terms for whole soils to produce
The prediction models for measured POMC had r2 values of 0.88, 0.928 and 0.958 for
POM-C, KMnO4 and total C. respectively
(Fig. 8 A-C).
Changes in soil and crop management
have an effect on soil organic carbon
pools in a wide range of environments.
Labile carbon, and POM-C are sensitive
indicators of changes in management
practices and are relatively rapid and
inexpensive tests of soil quality and
The Tucker Prairie soil had total organic C levels (3.84 %) three
times greater than that of the conventional tillage-full fertilizer
plot in Sanborn Field, (1.39%). Similarly, POM-C in Tucker Prairie,
was 1.5 times greater that the POM-C value in Sanborn Field
(24.73 and 17.23%, respectively) (Fig. 5 D-E).
Near infrared spectroscopy (NIR) is a
rapid and nondestructive field method
for evaluating changes in soil C
fractions, but its cost may make it less
favorable for developing countries.
In every treatment, all SOC pools are higher in the topsoil (0-10
cm) than the subsoil (10-20 cm.) (Fig. 5F).
This research will be comparing the
effectiveness of these soil quality
methods for additional sites in Latin
America, Africa and Asia.
Fig. 7 A-B. Farmers of the Bolvian Altiplano collecting
soil samples from a fallow field.
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