Stop Treating Your Soil Like Dirt

The world is brimming with news and information about soil health. But what best defines soil health? And, how do farmers best measure and improve it over time? These are questions posed by the Illinois Soybean Association on

First and foremost, it’s important to consider that healthy soil is comprised of physical, chemical and biological forces that interact to influence soil properties, says Will Brinton, Ph.D., environmental scientist and founder of Woods End Soil Laboratory.


“Soil isn’t something that’s just put there. Soil is constantly changing and responding to the environment,” he says. “Soil health isn’t a ‘thing’ like nitrogen or phosphorus is a ‘thing.’ Soil health is the interaction and relationship of many ‘things’ that form the whole of your soils.”

Brinton says embracing soil health should go beyond a traditional soil-management perspective that focuses on individual fertility components. Instead, farmers should adopt a more inclusive approach that addresses all of the properties that make up the entire system. Attention to soil health also should center on each field’s diverse ecosystem, giving careful consideration to making and executing plans for the farm all year long — and for the decades to come.