Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 136, Issue 1–3, pp 419–435

Alternative soil quality indices for evaluating the effect of intensive cropping, fertilisation and manuring for 31 years in the semi-arid soils of India

  • Reginald Ebhin Masto
  • Pramod K. Chhonkar
  • Dhyan Singh
  • Ashok K. Patra


Soil quality assessment provides a tool for evaluating the sustainability of alternative soil management practices. Our objective was to develop the most sensitive soil quality index for evaluating fertilizer, farm yard manure (FYM), and crop management practices on a semiarid Inceptisol in India. Soil indicators and crop yield data from a long-term (31 years) fertilizer, manure, and crop rotation (maize, wheat, cowpea, pearl millet) study at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) near New Delhi were used. Plots receiving optimum NPK, super optimum NPK and optimum NPK + FYM had better values for all the parameters analyzed. Biological, chemical, and physical soil quality indicator data were transformed into scores (0 to 1) using both linear and non-linear scoring functions, and combined into soil quality indices using unscreened transformations, regression equation, or principal component analysis (PCA). Long-term application of optimum inorganic fertilizers (NPK) resulted in higher soil quality ratings for all methods, although the highest values were obtained for treatment, which included FYM. Correlations between wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) yield and the various soil quality indices showed the best relationship (highest r) between yield and a PCA-derived SQI. Differences in SQI values suggest that the control (no NPK, no manure) and N only treatments were degrading, while soils receiving animal manure (FYM) or super optimum NPK fertilizer had the best soil quality, respectively. Lower ratings associated with the N only and NP treatments suggest that one of the most common soil management practices in India may not be sustainable. A framework for soil quality assessment is proposed.


Soil quality index Long-term fertilizer experiment Farm yard manure Scoring function Principal component analysis Regression model 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrews, S. S., & Carroll, C. R. (2001). Designing a decision tool for sustainable agro ecosystem management: Soil quality assessment of a poultry litter management case study. Ecological Application, 11, 1573–1585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrews, S. S., Karlen, D. L., & Mitchell, J. P. (2002). A comparision of soil quality indexing methods for vegetable systems in Northern California. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment, 90, 25–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrews, S. S., Mitchell, J. P., Mancinelli, R., Karlen, D. L., Hartz, T. K., Horwath, W. R., et al. (2001). On-farm assessment of soil quality in California’s central valley. Agronomy Journal, 94, 12–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arau´jo, A. S. F., & Monteiro, R. T. R. (2006). Microbial biomass and activity in a Brazilian soil amended with untreated and composted textile sludge. Chemosphere, 67, 1043–1046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arshad, M. A., & Martin, S. (2002). Identifying critical limits for soil quality indicators in agro ecosystems. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment, 88, 153–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baruah, T. C., & Barthakur, H. P. (1999). A text book of soil analysis. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. Pvt. Ltd.Google Scholar
  7. Brejda, J. J., Karlen, D. L., Smith, J. L., & Allan, D. L. (2000a). Identification of regional soil quality factors and indicators: II. Northern Mississippi loess hills and Palouse prairie. Soil Science Society America Journal, 64, 2125–2135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brejda, J. J., Moorman, T. B., Karlen, D. L., Smith, J. L., & Dao, T. H. (2000b). Identification of regional soil quality factors and indicators: I. Central and southern hill plains. Soil Science Society America Journal, 64, 2115–2124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bremner, J. M., & Mulvaney, C. S. (1982). Nitrogen-total. In A. L. Page, et al. (Eds.), Methods of soil analysis. Part 2. Chemical and microbiological propeperties (pp. 595–624). Madison, WI: American Society of Agronomy.Google Scholar
  10. Diack, M., & Stott, D. E. (2000). Development of a soil quality index for the Chalmers Silty Clay Loam from the Midwest USA. In D. E. Stott, R. H. Mohtar, & G. C. Steinhardt (Eds.), The global farm. Selected papers from the 10th International Soil Conservation Meeting held on May 24–29 at Purdue University and the USDA-ARS National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory.Google Scholar
  11. Dick, R. P. (1994). Soil enzyme activities as indicators of soil quality. In J. W. Doran, D. C. Coleman, D. F. Bezdicek, & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment (pp. 104–124). Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication No 35, ASA and SSSA.Google Scholar
  12. Doran, J. W., & Parkin, T. B. (1994). Defining and assessing soil quality. In J. W. Doran, D. C. Coleman, D. F. Bezdicek, & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment (pp. 3–21). Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication No 35, ASA and SSSA.Google Scholar
  13. Duxbury, J. M., Abrol, I. P., Gupta, R. K., & Bronson, K. (2000). Analysis of long-term soil fertility experiments with rice–wheat rotation in South Asia. In I. P. Abrol, K. Bronson, J. M. Duxbury, & R. K. Gupta (Eds.), Long-term soil fertility experiments in rice–wheat-cropping systems (pp. 7–22). New Delhi, India: RWC Research Series 6.Google Scholar
  14. Elliot, E. T. (1994). The potential use of soil biotic activity as an indicator of productivity, sustainability and pollution. In C. E. Pankhurst, et al. (Eds.), Soil biota: management in sustainable farming systems (pp. 250–256). Melbourne, Australia: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  15. Glover, J. D., Reganold, J. P., & Andrews, P. K. (2000). Systematic method for rating soil quality of conventional, organic, and integrated apple orchard in Washington State. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment, 80, 29–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Granatstein, D., & Bezdicek, D. F. (1992). The need for a soil quality index: Local and regional perspectives. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 7, 12–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gupta, V. K. (1995). Soil analysis for available micronutrients. In H. L. S. Tandon (Ed.), Methods of analysis of soils, plants, water and fertilizers (pp. 36–48). New Delhi: Fertilizer Development and Consultation Organisation.Google Scholar
  18. Hussain, I., Olson, K. R., Wander, M. M., & Karlen, D. L. (1999). Adaptation of soil quality indices and application to three tillage systems in southern Illinois. Soil and Tillage Research, 50, 237–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jackson, M. L. (1973). Soil chemical analysis. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  20. Jenkinson, D. S., & Ladd, J. N. (1981). Microbial biomass in soil, measurement and turn over. In E. A. Paul & J. N. Ladd (Eds.), Soil biochemistry, vol. 5 (pp. 415–471). New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  21. Jordan, D., Kremer, R. J., Bergfield, W. A., Kim, K. Y., & Cacino, V. N. (1995). Evaluation of microbial methods as potential indicators of soil quality in historical agricultural fields. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 19, 297–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kang, G. S., Beri, V., Sidhu, B. S., & Rupela, O. P. (2005). A new index to assess soil quality and sustainability of wheat-based cropping systems. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 41, 389–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Karlen, D. L., Gardner, J. C., & Rosek, M. J. (1998). A soil quality framework for evaluating the impact of CRP. Journal of Prouction Agriculture, 11, 56–60.Google Scholar
  24. Karlen, D. L., Mausbach, J. W., Doran, J. W., Cline, R. G., Harris, R. F., & Schuman, G. E. (1997). Soil quality: A concept, defnition and framework for evaluation. Soil Science Society America Journal, 61, 4–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Karlen, D. L., Parkin, T. P., & Eash, N. S. (1996). Use of soil quality indicators to evaluate conservation reserve program sites in Iowa. In J. W. Doran, D. C. Coleman, D. F. Bezdicek, & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment (pp. 345–355). Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication No 35, ASA and SSSA.Google Scholar
  26. Karlen, D. L., & Stott, D. E. (1994). A framework for evaluating physical and chemical indicators of soil quality. In J. W. Doran, D. C. Coleman, D. F. Bezdicek, & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment (pp. 53–72). Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication No 35, ASA and SSSA.Google Scholar
  27. Karlen, D. L., Wollenhaupt, N. C., Erbach, D. C., Berry, E. C., Swan, J. B., Eash, N. S., et al. (1994). Crop residue effects on soil quality following 10-years of no-till corn. Soil and Tillage Research, 31, 149–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klein, D. A., Loh, T. C., & Goulding, R. L. (1971). A rapid procedure to evaluate dehydrogenase activity of soils low in organic matter. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 3, 385–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ladha, J. K., Dawe, D., Pathak, H., Padre, A. T., Yadav, R. L., Singh, B., et al. (2003). How extensive are yield declines in long-term rice–wheat experiments in Asia? Field Crops Research, 81, 159–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Larson, W. E., & Pierce, F. J. (1991). Conservation and enhancement of soil quality. Evaluation of sustainable land management in the developing world. Bangkok, Thailand: International Board for Soil Research and Management.Google Scholar
  31. Larson, W. E., & Pierce, F. J. (1994). The dynamics of soil quality as a measure of sustainable management. In J. W. Doran, D. C. Coleman, D. F. Bezdicek, & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment (pp. 37–51). Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication No 35, ASA and SSSA.Google Scholar
  32. Lindsay, W. L., & Norvell, W. A. (1978). Development of a DTPA soil test for zinc, iron, manganese and copper. Soil Science Society America Journal, 42, 421–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maity, A. (2002). Generation of information database of IARI farm using geographical information system. M.Sc. thesis, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi.Google Scholar
  34. Mandal, A., Patra, A. K., Singh, D., Swarup, A., & Masto, R. E. (2007). Effect of long-term application of manure and fertilizer on biological and biochemical activities in soil during crop development stages. Bioresource Technology, doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2006.11.027.
  35. Manjaiah, K. M., & Singh, D. (2001). Soil organic matter and biological properties after 26 years of maize–wheat–cowpea cropping as affected by manure and fertilization in a cambisol in semiarid region of India. Agriculture,Ecosystem and Environment, 86, 155–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Manna, M. C., Swarup, A., Wanjari, R. H., Ravankar, H. N., Mishra, B., Saha, M. N., et al. (2005). Long-term effect of fertilizer and manure application on soil organic carbon storage, soil quality and yield sustainability under sub-humid and semi-arid tropical India. Field Crops Research, 93, 264–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Masto, R. E. (2004). Soil quality assessment in maize–wheat–cowpea cropping system under long-term fertilizer use. PhD thesis,. Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi.Google Scholar
  38. Masto, R. E., Chhonkar, P. K., Singh, D., & Patra, A. K. (2006). Changes in soil biological and biochemical characteristics in a long-term field trial on a sub-tropical inceptisol. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 38, 1577–1582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Masto, R. E., Chhonkar, P. K., Singh, D., & Patra, A. K. (2007). Soil quality response to long-term nutrient and crop management on a semi-arid Inceptisol. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 118, 130–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nannipieri, P., Grego, S., & Ceccanti, B. (1990). Ecological significance of biological activity. In J. M. Bollag & G. Stotzky (Eds.), Soil biochemistry, vol. 6 (pp. 293–355). New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  41. Olsen, S. R., Cole, C. V., Watanable, F. S., & Dean, L. A. (1954). Estimation of available phosphorus in soils by extraction with sodium bicarbonate. USDA Circular, 9398, 1–19.Google Scholar
  42. Parr, J. F., & Papendick, R. I. (1997). Soil quality: Relationship and strategies for sustainable dryland farming systems. Annals of Arid Zone Research, 36, 181–191.Google Scholar
  43. Pathak, H., Li, C., Wassmann, R., & Ladha, J. K. (2006). Simulation of nitrogen balance in rice–wheat systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. Soil Science Society America Journal, 70, 1612–1622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pierce, F. J., Larson, W. E., Dowdy, R. H., & Graham, W. A. P. (1983). Productivity of soils: Assessing long-term changes due to erosion. Journal of Soil Water Conservation, 38, 39–44.Google Scholar
  45. Rao, S. (1995). Analysis of soils for available inorganic nutrients. In H. L. S. Tandon (Ed.), Methods of analysis of soils plants, water and fertilisers (pp. 13–35). New Delhi, India: Fertiliser Development and Cooperation Organisation.Google Scholar
  46. Rao, S. C. H., Rupa, T. R., Rao, A. S., & Bansal, S. K. (2000). Potassium fixation characteristics of major benchmark soils of India. Journal of Indian Society of Soil Science, 48, 220–227.Google Scholar
  47. Sharma, K. L., Mandal, U. K., Srinivas, K., Vittal, K. P. R., Mandal, B., Grace, J. K., et al. (2005). Long-term soil management effects on crop yields and soil quality in a dryland Alfisol. Soil and Tillage Research, 83, 246–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Singh, K. K., Covlin, T. S., Erbach, D. C., & Mughal, A. Q. (1992). Tilth index: An approach to quantifying soil tilth. Transactions of the ASAE, 35, 1777–1785.Google Scholar
  49. Singh, D., Rana, D. S., & Kumar, K. (1998). Phosphorus removal and available P balance in a Typic Ustochrept under intensive cropping and long-term fertiliser use. Journal of Indian Society of Soil Science, 46, 398–401.Google Scholar
  50. Subbiah, B. V., & Asija, G. L. (1956). A rapid procedure for assessment of available nitrogen in soils. Current Science, 31, 196–260.Google Scholar
  51. Subramanian, K. S., & Kumaraswamy, K. (1989). Effect of continuous cropping and fertilization on the phosphate fixation capacity of soil. Journal of Indian Society of Soil Science, 37, 682–686.Google Scholar
  52. Sur, H. S., Sidhu, A. S., Singh, R., Aggarwal, G. C., & Sandhu, K. S. (1993). Long-term effect of green manuring on soil physical properties and production potential in green manure–maize–wheat sequence. Annals of Agriculture Research, 14, 125–131.Google Scholar
  53. Swarup, A., Reddy, D., & Prasad, R. N. (1998). Long-term soil fertility management through integrated plant nutrient supply. Bhopal, India: Indian Institute of Soil Science, p. 335.Google Scholar
  54. Tabatabai, M. A., & Bremner, J. M. (1969). Use of p-nitrophenyl phosphate for assay of soil phosphatase activity. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 1, 301–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Umbrert, W. W., Burris, R. H., & Stauffer, J. F. (1972). Manometric techniques. A manual describing methods applicable to the study of tissue metabolism (5th Ed.). Burger Pub. Co.Google Scholar
  56. Veihmeyer, F. J., & Hendrickson, A. H. (1948). Soil density and root penetration. Soil Science, 65, 487–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Velmurugan, A. (2000). Assessment of soil quality parameters for sustainable production in rice–wheat cropping system. PhD thesis,. Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, India.Google Scholar
  58. Walkley, A. J., & Black, C. A. (1934). An estimation of the Degtjareff method for determining soil organic matter and a proposed modification of the chromic acid titration method. Soil Science, 37, 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wander, M. M., & Bollero, G. A. (1999). Soil quality assessment of tillage impacts in Illinois. Soil Science Society America Journal, 63, 961–971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Warkentin, B. P. (1996). Overview of soil quality indicators. In Proceedings, Soil quality Assessment for the Prairies Workshop, Edmonton, Jan. 22–24, 1996, pp. 1–13.Google Scholar
  61. Waugh, D. L., & Fitts, J. W. (1966). Soil tests interpretation studies, laboratory and potted plant. Technical bulletin-North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station (ISTP series) No.3.Google Scholar
  62. Williams, C. H., & Steinbergs, A. (1959). Soil sulphur fractions as chemical indices of available sulphur in some Australian soils. Australian Journal of Agriculture Research, 10, 340–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reginald Ebhin Masto
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pramod K. Chhonkar
    • 1
  • Dhyan Singh
    • 1
  • Ashok K. Patra
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Soil Science and Agricultural ChemistryIndian Agricultural Research InstituteNew DelhiIndia
  2. 2.Environmental Management DivisionCentral Fuel Research InstituteJharkhandIndia

Personalised recommendations