Ohio Soil Health Card

Sustainable Agriculture Fact Sheet Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Edited by Alan Sundermeier, Extension Educator, Wood County

The Ohio Soil Health Card evaluates a soil’s health or quality as a function of soil, water, plant and other biological properties identified by farmers. The card was developed for farmers by farmers with assistance from Ohio State University Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). The card is a tool to help you monitor and improve soil health based on your own field experience and a working knowledge of your soils. Regular use will allow you to record long-term changes in soil health and to compare the effects of different soil management practices. This card is most effective when filled out consistently by the same person over time. It provides a qualitative assessment of soil health, and evaluation ratings that do not represent an absolute measure or value. The purpose is not to measure one soil type against another, but rather to use indicators that assess each soils ability to function within its capabilities and site limitations.

How Do You Use the Ohio Soil Health Card?

Step 1 The only tools required to use the card are a pencil and shovel or spade.
Step 2 Use the “Best Times to Assess Indicators” chart for the best times to assess each indicator of soil quality and health.
Step 3 Divide your farm and fields into separate sections for evaluation in the same way you would divide them for soil-fertility sampling: separate by factors like soil type, topography, and history of tillage, crop rotation and manure application.
Step 4 Enter the Date and Field Identification information at the top of the card.
Step 5 Select 2–3 representative spots in your field and evaluate each soil health Indicator. Read the Descriptive Ratings in the rectangular boxes and based on your judgment rate the indicator GoodFair or Poor by checking the small square in the lower left-hand corner of the box with the best description.
Step 6 In the Notes section following each group of soil health indicators, record any observations or soil conditions that will help you review and evaluate your ratings.
Step 7 Follow changes in each of the soil health indicators over time, examine current field management practices, and consider ideas for management changes in problem areas.


Best Times to Assess Indicators
  Early Spring Before Planting Growing Season Fall After Rainfall
Spring Summer
Structure (when moist) X X X X  
Crusting   X     X
Compaction X X X X  
Earthworms X X   X X
Smell (when moist) X X X X X
Residue Decomposition X X   X  
Drainage X X X X X
Water Movement X X X X X
Water-Holding Capacity   X X X X
Uniform Growth and Color   X X    
Seedling Emergence   X X    
Root Systems   X X X  
Nutrient Levels X     X  
pH X X X X  
Organic Matter X     X  

For more information on soil health go to the following websites: nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/soils/home/; southcenters.osu.edu/soil-and-bioenergy; ohioline.osu.edu

This card was originally developed for farmers by farmers with assistance from the Ohio State University Extension Sustainable Agriculture Team, the OSU Piketon Research & Extension Center, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS).

Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu