Soil Health Assessment and Management Framework for Water-Limited Environments: Examples from the Great Plains of the USA

Healthy soils provide the foundation for sustainable agriculture. However, soil health degradation has been a significant challenge for agricultural sustainability and environmental quality in water-limited environments, such as arid and semi-arid regions. Soils in these regions is often characterized by low soil organic matter (SOM), poor fertility, and low overall productivity, thus limiting the ability to build SOM. Soil health assessment frameworks developed for more productive, humid, temperate environments typically emphasize building SOM as a key to soil health and have identified the best management practices that are often difficult to implement in regions with water limitations. This study reviewed existing soil health assessment frameworks to assess their potential relevance for water-limited environments and highlights the need to develop a framework that links soil health with key ecosystem functions in dry climates. It also discusses management strategies for improving soil health, including tillage and residue management, organic amendments, and cropping system diversification and intensification. The assessment of indicators sensitive to water management practices could provide valuable information in designing soil health assessment frameworks for arid and semi-arid regions. The responses of soil health indicators are generally greater when multiple complementary soil health management practices are integrated, leading to the resilience and sustainability of agriculture in water-limited environments.
© 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Soil Systems, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: conservation agriculture; cover crops; semi-arid region; soil carbon; soil functions.
: Ghimire, R.; Thapa, V.R.; Acosta-Martinez, V.; Schipanski, M.; Slaughter, L.C.; Fonte, S.J.; Shukla, M.K.; Bista, P.; Angadi, S.V.; Mikha, M.M.; et al. Soil Health Assessment and Management Framework for Water-Limited Environments: Examples from the Great Plains of the USA. Soil Syst. 2023, 7, 22. soilsystems7010022