The South Dakota Soil Health Coalition is working to create a Soil Health Assessment Card which agricultural producers of all types, ranchers, gardeners, and others can take into the field to assess their current level of soil  health. Click on the button above to download the current version of the card, keeping in mind that it is an initial version and changes will be made as it is fully finalized.

Included below are images and descriptions which will assist you in identifying some of the soil health indicators included on the Soil Health Assessment Card. These helpful descriptions and photos are currently under final development. Check back regularly for updates to these resources!

 

Soil Health Indicators: Images & Descriptions

Use these images to help evaluate various levels of soil cover.  Look straight down at the field as was done with these pictures and ask yourself what percent of the ground is covered with residue.  Although the pictures show small grain residue on tilled ground, the same concept would apply regardless of crop/cover crop and tillage/no-tillage system.

Biological Activity – Earthworms:  Earthworms are one of the easiest indicators to observe.  However, they may not be present if the soil is too dry.  In addition to worms, look for signs of worms such as holes (left photo) or their casts (right photo) in the form of little piles of soil, mineral particles or organic matter on or in the soil.  Take a shovel-full of soil and break it apart carefully looking for earthworms or signs of earthworms. 

Biological Activity – Fungal hyphae, etc.:  Fungal hyphae will appear as white to light tan threads (left photo) or masses (right photo).  Also, look for things that move like mites, springtails, millipedes, roundworms, beetles and termites.

Soil Structure:  Crumbly soil (left photo) has developed over time by not tilling and subsequent biological activity.  It will have pores and channels allowing air and water to move in the soil.  Tilled soil may resemble this after the disturbance but will soon look more like the platty soil (right photo).  Hard soil layers restrict air and water along with root growth.

 

(Photos utilized on this page courtesy of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service)