Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • ZHUZHU LUO (a1) (a2), YANTAI GAN (a3), YINING NIU (a1) (a3), RENZHI ZHANG (a1) (a2), LINGLING LI (a1), LIQUN CAI (a1) (a2) and JUNHONG XIE (a1)...


Soil quality indicators (SQI) can be used as a synthetic tool for the assessment of the sustainability of agricultural systems. In this study, we developed SQI using minimum data set (MDS) and determined the response of SQI to long-term tillage systems. Field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) were grown in alternate years at northwestern China, and soil attributes and crop productivity were measured 6 years after the initiation of the experiment. The MDS used to develop the SQI included soil physical (aggregate, bulk density, capillary porosity, field capacity), chemical (soil organic matter, total nitrogen, available phosphorus, available potassium) and biological (microbial count, microbial biomass, and the activities of catalase, urease, alkaline phosphatase, and invertase) properties. All the property variables were measured in each of the 0–5, 5–10 and 10–30 cm depths and those variables that contributed significantly to the SQI were selected to be included in the MDS. Amongst the measured variables, bulk density and microbial counts occurred in the MDS of all the three depths, suggesting that these two properties are highly affected by the tillage treatments. In the long-term field experiment, the no-till with stubble covering the soil surface treatment received the greatest SQI score and achieved the highest crop yield. Soil quality under tillage systems can be assessed adequately using MDS measured at the top soil (0–5 cm) layer in rainfed agro-ecosystems.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Andrews, S. S. and Carroll, C. R. (2001). Designing a soil quality assessment tool for sustainable agroecosystem management. Ecological Applications 11 (6):15731585.
Andrews, S. S., Karlen, D. L. and Mitchell, J. P. (2002a). A comparision of soil quality indexing methods for vegetable systems in Northern California. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment 90:2545.
Andrews, S. S., Mitchell, J. P., Mancinelli, R., Larlen, D. L., Hartz, T. K., Horwarth, W. R., Pettygrove, G. S., Scow, K. M. and Munk, D. S. (2002b). On farm assessment of soil quality in California's central valley. Agronomy Journal 94:1223.
Bandick, A. K. and Dick, R. P. (1999). Field management effects on soil enzyme activities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 31:14711479.
Bao, S. D. (2000). Analysis on Soil Agricultural Chemistry, Beijing: China Agricultural Press.
Brejda, J. J., Karlen, D. L., Smith, J. L. and Allan, D. L. (2000a). Identification of regional soil quality factors and indicators:II. Northern Mississippi loess hills and Palouse prairie. Soil Science Society of America Journal 64:21252135.
Brejda, J. J., Moorman, T. B., Karlen, D. L., Smith, J. L. and Dao, T. H. (2000b). Identification of regional soil quality factors and indicators: I. Central and southern hill plains. Soil Science Society of America Journal 64:21152124.
Cai, L. Q., Qi, P. and Zhang, R. Z. (2008). Effects of conservation tillage measures on soil aggregates stability and soil organ ic carbon in two sequence rotation system with spring wheat and field pea. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 22 (2):141145.
Cannell, R. Q. and Hawes, J. D. (1994). Trends in tillage practices in relation to sustainable crop production with special reference to temperate climates. Soil & Tillage Research 30:245282.
Chan, K. Y. and Heenan, D. P. (2005). The effects of stubble burning and tillage on soil carbon sequestration and crop productivity in southeastern Australia. Soil Use and Management 21:427431.
Doran, J. W. and Parkin, T. B. (Eds) (1994). Defining and Assessing Soil Quality. Madison, WI: SSSA Special Publication.
Enfors, E., Barron, J., Makurira, H., Rockström, J. and Tumbo, S. (2011). Yield and soil system changes from conservation tillage in dryland farming: A case study from North Eastern Tanzania. Agricultural Water Management 98 (11):16871695.
Ferreras, L. A., Costa, J. L., Garcia, F. O. and Pecorari, C. (2000). Effect of no-tillage on some soil physical properties of a structural degraded Petrocalcic Paleudoll of the southern “Pampa” of Argentina. Soil & Tillage Research 54:3139.
Gan, Y., Siddique, K. H. M., Turner, N. C., Li, X.-G., Niu, J.-Y., Yang, C., Liu, L. and Chai, Q. (2013). Chapter seven - ridge-furrow mulching systems—an innovative technique for boosting crop productivity in semiarid rain-fed environments. In Advances in Agronomy Vol. 118, 429476 (Ed Donald, L. S.). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Glover, J. D., Reganold, J. P. and Andrews, P. K. (2000). Systematic method for rating soil quality of conventional, organic, and integrated apple orchards in Washington State. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 80:2945.
Guan, S. Y. (1986). Soil Enzyme and its Research Method. Beijing: Agriculture Press.
Halvorson, A., Peterson, G. A. and Reule, C. A. (2002). Tillage system and crop rotation effects on dryland crop yield and soil carbon in the central Great Plains Agronomy Journal 94:14291436.
Jackson, M. L. (1973). Soil Chemical Analysis. New Delhi, India: Prentice Hall of India Pvt. Ltd.
Karlen, D. L., Gardner, J. C. and Rosek, M. J. (1998). A soil quality framework for evaluating the impact of CRP. Journal of Prouction Agriculture 11:5660.
Karlen, D. L., Mausbach, M. J., Doran, J. W., Cline, R. G., Harris, R. F. and Schuman, G. E. (1997). Soil quality: A concept, definition and framework for evaluation. Soil Science Society of America Journal 61:410.
Karlen, D. L. and Stott, D. E. (1994). A framework for evaluating physical and chemical indicators of soil quality. In Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment, 5372 (Eds Doran, J. W., Coleman, D. C., Bezdicek, D. F. and Stewart, B. A.). 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711, USA: Soil Science Society of America, SSSA Special Publication no. 35.
Karlen, D. L., Wollenhaupt, N. C. and Erbach, D. C. (1994). Long-term tillage effects on soil quality. Soil & Tillage Research 32:313327.
Lal, R., Mahboubi, A. and Fausey, N. R. (1994). Long term tillage and rotation effects on properties of central Ohio soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal 58:517522.
Larson, W. E. and Pierce, F. J. (Eds) (1994). The Dynamics of Soil Quality as a Measure of Sustainable Management. SSSA and ASA, Madison, WI: SSSA. Spec. Publ. 35.
Li, F. D., Yu, Z. N. and He, S. J. (1996). Experimental Technique of Agricultural Microbiology. Beijing: China Agriculture Press.
Li, S. Q., Li, D. F. and Li, F. M. (2003). Soil ecological effects of plastic film mulching in semiarid agro-ecological system. Journal of Northwest A&F University (Natural Science Edition) 31 (5):2129.
Liebig, M. A., Varvel, G. and Doran, J. (2001). A simple performance based index for assessing multiple agroecosystem functions. Agronomy Journal 93:313318.
(1978). Soil Physical Analysis. Beijing: Science Press.
Niu, Y., Zhang, R., Luo, Z., Li, L., Cai, L., Li, G. and Xie, J. (2016). Contributions of long-term tillage systems on crop production and soil properties in the semi-arid Loess Plateau of China. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 96 (8):26502659.
Olsen, S. R., Cole, C. V., Watanable, F. S. and Dean, L. A. (Eds) (1954). Estimation of Available Phosphorus in Soils by Extraction with Sodium Bicarbonate. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pierce, F. J., Larson, W. E., Dowdy, R. H. and Graham, W. A. P. (1983). Productivity of soils: Assessing long-term changes due to erosion. Journal of Soil Water Conservation 38:3944.
Salinas-Garcia, J. R. (2001). Residue removal and tillage interaction effects on soil properties under rain-fed corn production in Central Mexico. Soil & Tillage Research 59:6779.
Shukla, M. K., Lal, R. and Ebinger, M. (2004). Soil quality indicators for reclaimed mine soils in southeastern Ohio. Soil Science Society of America Journal 169 (2):133141.
Singer, M. J. and Ewing, S. (Eds) (2000). Soil Quality. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press.
Singh, K. K., Covlin, T. S., Erbach, D. C. and Mughal, A. (1992). Tilth index: An approach to quantifying soil tilth. Transactions of the ASAE 35:17771785.
Soon, Y. K., Clayton, G. W. and Rice, W. A. (2001). Tillage and previous crop effects on dynamics of nitrogen in a wheat-soil system. Agronomy Journal 93:842849.
Tracy, P. W., Westfall, D. G., Elliott, E. T., Peterson, G. A. and Cole, C. V. (1990). Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur mineralization in plow and no-till cultivation. Soil Science Society of America Journal 54:457461.
Unger, P. W. and Jones, O. R. (1998). Long-term tillage and cropping systems affect bulk density and penetration resistance of soil cropped to dryland wheat and grain sorghum. Soil & Tillage Research 45:3957.
Van Wie, J. B., Adam, J. C. and Ullman, J. L. (2013). Conservation tillage in dryland agriculture impacts watershed hydrology. Journal of Hydrology 483 (0):2638.
Walkley, A. and Black, I. A. (1934). An examination of the Degtjareff method for determining soil organic matter, and a proposed modification of the chromic acid titration method. Soil science 37:2938.
Wander, M. M. and Bollero, G. A. (1999). Soil quality assessment of tillage impacts in Illinois. Soil Science Society of America Journal 63:961971.
Wang, X. (1994). Application of Soil Taxonomic Classification in the Evaluation of Soil Resources. Beijing (in Chinese): Science Press.
Wienhold, B. J., Andrews, S. S. and Karlen, D. L. (2004). Soil quality: A review of the science and experiences in the USA. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 26:8995.
Yan, C. S. (1988). Soil Fertility and its Research Method. Beijing: Science Press.
Yang, X. M. and Wander, M. M. (1998). Temporal changes in dry aggregate size and stability: Tillage and drop effects on a silty loam Mollisoil in Illinois. Soil & Tillage Research 49:173183.
Zhang, R. Z., Luo, Z. Z. and Cai, L. Q. (2011). Effects of long-term conservation tillage on soil physical quality of rainfed areas of the Loess Plateau. Acta Prataculturae Sinica 20 (4):110.
Zhao, L. P. and Jiang, Y. (1986). Discussion on measurements of soil phosphates. Chinese Journal of Soil Science 17 (3):138141.
Zornoza, R., Mataix-Solera, J., Guerrero, C., Arcenegui, V., Mataix-Beneyto, J. and Go´ mez, I. (2008). Validating the effectiveness and sensitivity of two soil quality indices based on natural forest soils under Mediterranean conditions. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 40:20792087.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Luo supplementary material
Supplementary Table

 Word (36 KB)
36 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed