New Whitepaper Explores the Connection between Soil Health and Water Quality

The Soil Health Nexus is excited to debut two new resources on the Soil Health Toolbox! Two Soil Health Nexus members, Francisco Arriaga, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Anna Cates, Assistant Professor and State Soil Health Specialist at the University of Minnesota, recently published a long-awaited whitepaper exploring the connection between soil health and water quality.

“While there has been a lot of work linking farm management practices with soil health or water quality, few have looked at the connection to both soil and water quality,” notes Cates. “Generally, management systems that lead to better soil health result in decreased risk to water quality, but that is not the case in all conditions or for all management systems. What works in one field for both soil health and water quality might not be the best option for another field. This whitepaper explores those intricacies so educators can better recognize and communicate when the relationship isn’t positively correlated.”

The 10-page whitepaper outlines those situations where soil health best management practices don’t improve water quality, for example when high water infiltration capacity in soil with limited depth to bedrock can lead to rapid delivery of nutrients to groundwater or when no-tillage practices can result in more runoff and overall phosphorus losses from frozen sloping fields relative to fall chiseling.

Graphic illustration of the water cycle

A graphic illustration of the water cycle created for the Soil Health and Water Quality Whitepaper

The whitepaper also includes numerous diagrams and pictures to illustrate the complex relationship between soil health and water quality and includes a table outlining soil health properties and their relative impact on water quality – an easy-to-use reference guide and resource for educators. Included in the whitepaper are two newly designed graphics visually depicting the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle.

“When we were reviewing the whitepaper, it became clear that these diagrams could be very useful to educators across the region when doing their programming,” notes Christina Curell, a Soil Health Nexus leadership team member and one of the reviewers of the whitepaper. “Considering this, we made sure to show them to the full Soil Health Nexus team and get their feedback. What we heard is that these are very helpful – but graphics of the carbon cycle or the phosphorus cycle could also be useful to educators, so we are looking at creating those next.”

The diagrams of the water cycle and nitrogen cycle are now available for download via the Soil Health Nexus Toolbox with additional graphics coming in the future. Both resources are available for extension professionals and soil health educators to use in their work, along with resources on soil’s chemical, physical, and biological properties, carbon agreements, on-farm research protocols, and more.

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