Impacts of Soil Health Practices on Hydrologic Processes

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This paper explores the growing interest in soil health, emphasizing its importance in optimizing crop production, ecosystem function, and biodiversity. Defined by the USDA-NRCS as the soil’s capacity to function as a vital ecosystem, soil health involves filtering contaminants, cycling nutrients, supporting infrastructure, and regulating water movement. Traditional approaches to quantifying soil health focus on chemical, physical, or biological properties, often calling for a more integrated measurement method. While practices enhancing soil health, such as no-tillage, cover crops, and biodiversity, have long been promoted, their broader impacts on the hydrologic cycle are less documented. This paper aims to fill this gap by reviewing literature on soil health practices’ effects on the hydrologic cycle and providing evidence and guidelines for policy- and decision-makers. It highlights the benefits of improved soil health, including increased water infiltration, higher crop yields, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil Health quickCAST

About the Authors

Task Force Chair
Briana M. Wyatt, Texas A&M University

Task Force Authors
Jerry Hatfield, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (retired)
Ken Wacha, USDA
Rattan Lal, Ohio State University
Antonio Arenas, Iowa State University
Hannah Birge, The Nature Conservatory
Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois

CAST Liaison
Todd Peterson, Ag Technology Specialist and Soil Health Champion (retired)

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