The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements

The Washington State Soil Health Committee recently commented on The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements.

If you would like to comment, you can do so by following this link.

Here is the letter:

November 8, 2018

Dr. Diane Stott, National Soil Health Specialist U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS
915 W. State Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907di

Re: Notice of Recommended Standard Methods for Use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements

Dear Dr. Stott:

We are submitting this comment in response to the Notice by the Natural Resources Conservation Service on September 14, 2018, regarding the Technical Note (“TN”) titled, “Recommended Standard Methods of Use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements.”

As Co-Chairs of the Washington State Soil Health Committee, we wish to applaud your agency’s impressive work in advancing the science of measuring soil health. This lengthy 66-page technical note is a short course in itself on the many challenges and methods of measuring soil health. As the collaborative work of 100 scientists, this is an invaluable tool for groups like our Soil Health Committee.

We particularly appreciate these aspects of the TN:

(1) Identifying the need for adequate subsamples to be taken to test a particular area, such as an agricultural field. As the note states, in-field soil
measurements vary “spatially and temporally” (p. 10). This simple observation is the reason that so many producers are disillusioned with current lab tests of their fields. From the same field, they receive entirely different results, making management a confusing process;

(2) Identifying the need to standardize public and private soil-testing labs. As the TN states, there is a “critical need for standardization of field and lab methods” and, furthermore, that “current sampling and handling procedures in fields vary widely, leading to inconsistent results and interpretation.” We look forward to the separate document being prepared to address sampling and handling issues;

(3) Identifying criteria that include usefulness to the producer and the ease of interpretation for on-the-ground use of the results of various soil tests; and

(4) Introducing the idea of “Sampling for Life,” which would involve archiving of microbes in soils for more sophisticated laboratory analysis. As the TN states, “only coarse-level microbial characterization “ is now available. We need to rapidly advance our understanding of the microbial ecosystems in our soils.

We recommend adding a brief discussion of the potential use of biochar as a medium for capturing and analyzing microbes. The chemical bonds created in soil when biochar is added have been well studied and are known to result in the population of surface area by soil microbes.

Thank you for this excellent technical note.

Sincerely yours, Lynn Bahrych
Lynn Bahrych, J.D., Ph.D., Co-Chair Washington State Soil Health

Gary Farrell, President, Ag Enterprises Supply, Co-Chair Washington State Soil Health Committee