Soil Health Matrix Decision Tool

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Welcome to the Soil Health Matrix Decision Tool. This tool was designed by the Soil Health Nexus with assistance from extension colleagues from the across the region and with financial support from North Central SARE.

This tool is currently in the pilot phase. Please explore the tool below and let us know your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions in this short 5-minute survey. Your feedback will be incorporated as we continue to refine the tool and improve its function.

Please note: This tool is designed to serve as a 101 tool for producers who are considering implementing new soil health practices on their operation. It is not meant to provide specific metrics on the impact of practice implementation. Instead, it is designed to give producers an overall feel for the soil health benefits of a range of management decisions and help narrow down which practices might be the best fit for their operation. After using this tool, it is critical for producers to work with advisors and educators about the specifics of their operation prior to implementation. The values in this tool are regional in nature. For more information about how to use the tool, and how the tool was created, please review the instructions tab.

This tool was created to be applicable for producers across the North Central Region of the US. That said, we acknowledge that conditions and factors differ state to state and area to area. If you are interested in adapting this tool to your specific area, please reach out and we are happy to help!


STEP 1: Select your current practices.

Select all of your current practices related to tillage, manure, crop rotation, cover crops and complimentary practices in the "Current Practices" selection dropdowns.

STEP 2: Explore your current soil health score.

Explore how your current practices rank. Scores range from -2 (very poor) to 2 (very good). The practice soil health score is the average of all the indicator scores for that practice.

STEP 3: Select your future planned practices.

Select all of the future practices you are considering related to tillage, manure, cover crops, crop rotation, and complimentary practices in the "Planned Practices" selection dropdowns.

STEP 4: Explore the soil health scores of your new planned practices.

Explore how your planned practices rank. Scores range from -2 (very poor) to 2 (very good). The practice soil health score is the average of all the indicator scores for that practice.

STEP 5: Review the Results.

Explore your current overall soil health score and how it compares to your planned practices overall soil health score. Your results also show how your practices impact a number of soil health indicators. Feel free to explore different scenarios by changing the planned practices to see how different practices impact the overall soil health score.

STEP 6: Explore future considerations.

Whenever you are considering changing a practice or management, there are considerations such as time, skill, labor, and equipment needs to keep in mind. As you consider adding or changing your practices, explore how these changes impact the future considerations table. Some changes require a substantial cost or time investment, while others do not. Think about how this impacts your decision-making. This table also includes additional ecosystem services such as healthy waterways, groundwater protection, landscape diversity, wildlife habitat and pollinator habitat that certain practices provide, which can help you reach your overall production and operation goals.


The values in this matrix were created by asking extension and research representatives from each of the states in the 12-state North Central region to fill out the matrix and averaging their responses. The resulting scores were then rounded to the nearest 0.5. These values are averaged to determine the practice and indicator soil health scores, rounded to the nearest 0.1. Each indicator soil health score is averaged to create the overall soil health score. Tillage, manure, cover crops, and crop rotation are weighted equally in the overall scores. Scores for managed grazing and controlled traffic are not averaged with the other practices. These complimentary practices are considered additive and are each given approximately one-half the weight of tillage, manure, cover crops, and crop rotation.


The values in this tool are not meant to be specific metrics, but rather to serve as a guide. The impact of various practices are often contingent on location and many times the benefits of implementing one practice depend on the other practices being implemented on that same field. Please work with your local extension educator when interpreting scores and considering new practices.


There are many edge-of-field and other complimentary practices that can impact a suite of ecosystem services that were not included in this tool. The complimentary practices featured in this tool were chosen because they are known to impact soil health in-field.


< -1.3 Very Poor

-1.3 to -0.6 Poor

-0.5 to 0.5 Neutral

0.6 to 1.3 Good

> 1.3 Very Good

Current Practices

Complementary Practices

Planned Practices

Complementary Practices


The potential for soil health improvement varies based on your individual situation. For example, improvements tend to be greater in course, fine, and degraded soils.

Future Considerations

Cover Crops
Crop Rotation
Controlled Traffic
Managed Grazing
Equipment Needed
Transition Time/Labor
Skill Level
Transition Costs
Ecosystem Benefits
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Practice Definitions


Conventional Till

- Full tillage with minimal residue.

Reduced Till

- Reduction in depth, degree and frequency of tillage compared to conventional.

Ridge Till

- Scalping and planting on ridges built during cultivation of the previous year's crop.

Strip Till

- Tillage that disturbs soil only in a narrow band near the seed furrow.


- No regular field-wide tillage throughout a cropping rotation.

Manure or Composted Manure

Manure or Composted Manure

- Agronomic use of manure or composted manure (liquid or dry) on a regular basis. (While there may be variations in the degree of soil health benefit of manure based on type and application method, research on the soil health benefits of applying manure in different ways is insufficient at this time.)

No Manure

- No or infrequent manure use (more than 3 years between applications).

Cover Crops

No Cover Crop

- No crop seeded into an agricultural field outside of the regular growing season.

Single Species

- A single species of annuals seeded into an agricultural field during or outside of the regular growing season.


- Multiple single species of annuals seeded into an agricultural field during or outside of the regular growing season.


- Perennials (multiple or single) seeded into an agricultural field during or outside of the regular growing season. i.e. bluegrass inter-seeded in corn and soybean rotation

Crop Rotation

Single Crop

- One annually-planted crop (i.e. continuous corn).

Two Crops

- Two annually-planted crops in rotation (i.e corn-soybean).

Diverse (3+) Crops

- Three or more annually-planted crops in a crop rotation (i.e. corn-soybean-wheat-pea).

Perennial in Rotation

- Perennials or a mixture of perennials and annually-planted crops in a crop rotation. (i.e. corn-soybean-alfalfa).


- Integrating crop and livestock systems, woodland-based systems including woodland pasture and agroforestry, and/or harvesting two overlapping/inter-cropped crops from the same field in a given year. i.e. inter-seeding wheat into forage legumes, etc.

Complimentary Practices

Controlled traffic

- Confining all high load wheel/track traffic from farm equipment to specific lanes or tramlines in crop fields year after year.

Managed Grazing

- Managing the harvest of vegetation with grazing and/or browsing animals by periodically rotating animals to different areas or otherwise preventing overgrazing.

Indicator Definitions

Soil Organic Matter

All non-mineral solids in soil, arising from biological tissues, byproducts, and wastes including carbon.

Nutrient Capacity

The extent to which the soil system is able to assist with nutrient cycling and limit nutrient loss.

Water Holding Capacity

The ability of a soil to hold maximum amount of water between field capacity and permanent wilting point moisture levels and is affected by soil texture, organic matter level, porosity and pore sizes.


Minimizing the detachment and movement of soil particles from the point of origination through water or wind.

Water Infiltration

The rate at which water can move through a soil and its layers.

Aggregate Stability

The ability of a soil to hold together and maintain structure despite disruptive forces.


The level at which soil particles are compressed together resulting in reduced pore space between them.

Soil Organism Habitat

The degree to which the soil provides a food source and habitat for a diversity of organisms including bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and the more visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants.

Practice Soil Health Score

Average soil health score for each practice (i.e. does the practice improve or degrade soil health).

Indicator Soil Health Score

Average score for each soil health indicator (i.e. is the indicator improving or degrading over time).

Overall Soil Health Score

An average of the eight indicator scores. An overall indication of whether the combination of practices will improve or degrade soil over time.

Ecosystem Benefits Definitions

Healthy Waterways

Practice(s) that contribute to improved surface water quality and reduced nutrient runoff to waterways.

Groundwater Protection

Practice(s) that help to reduce the movement of contaminants into groundwater supplies.

Landscape Diversity

Practice(s) that increase plant and/or animal diversity on the landscape, which may provide benefits to wildlife, water quality, and/or soil health.

Wildlife Habitat

An area that provides food, water, cover, and/or space for a variety of wildlife species.

Pollinator Habitat

An area with a variety of flowering plants that provides food, water, cover, and/or space for pollinator species.

Pest Control

Practice(s) that prevent or suppress pests (weeds, insects, and diseases) that cause damage to cash crops.


Need to work off-line? You can download an excel version of the Soil Health Matrix Decision Tool below.
Download the Excel Tool