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Soil Quality Test Kit Guide


The Soil Quality Test Kit Guide describes procedures for 12 on-farm tests, an interpretive section for each test, data recording sheets, and a section on how to build your own kit. The NRCS does not build or sell soil quality test kits. Kits are being sold by Gempler's and by Murray FFA in Murray, Iowa.

(Disclaimer: Trade names are used solely to provide specific information. Mention of a trade name does not constitute a guarantee of the product by the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor does it imply endorsement by the Department or the Natural Resources Conservation Service over comparable products that are not named.)

The Soil Quality Test Kit Guide consists of two sections:

Section I - Test Procedures contains step-by-step instructions for running each of the tests included in the Soil Quality Test Kit. It is fully illustrated with pictures to show the procedures and equipment needed to complete each step. Appendix D includes instructions for building a test kit.

Section II – Background and Interpretive Guide describes the background of the tests and provides guidance on interpreting the results of the tests.

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat, or Microsoft Excel.

Download the Soil Quality Kit Guide and supporting documents:


Soil Quality Test Kit Fact Sheet (PDF, 290KB)
Soil Quality Test Kit Guide  (PDF, 1.5MB) English version
Guía para la Evaluación de la Calidad y Salud del Suelo  (PDF, 3MB) Spanish version
Soil Quality Evaluation Worksheet (XLS, 60KB) For data entry and running calculations and statistics

Download individual chapters of the Guide (English only):

Cover (PDF, 53KB) - Includes the Table of Contents, acknowledgements, and preface

Section I - Test Procedures

1. Measuring Soil Quality (PDF, 270KB) - sampling and site characterization
2. Soil Respiration Test (PDF, 55KB) - indicates the soil's biological activity
3. Infiltration Test (PDF, 320KB) - measures the soil's ability to take in water through the soil surface
4. Bulk Density Test (PDF, 50KB) - measures the soil's compaction or pore space
5. Electrical Conductivity (EC) Test (PDF, 8KB) - measures the salt concentration in the soil
6. pH Test (PDF, 8KB) - measures the soil's acidity /alkalinity
7. Soil Nitrate Test (PDF, 200KB) - measure the soil's Nitrate levels
8. Aggregate Stability Test (PDF, 260KB) - measures the amount of water stable aggregates
9. Slake Test (PDF, 145KB) - estimates the stability of soil fragments in water
10. Earthworm Test (PDF, 55KB) - measures the amount of earthworms in the soil
11. Soil Observations and Estimations (PDF, 430KB) - how to observe soil structure, root patterns, and estimate topsoil depth, penetration resistance and soil texture in the soil profile
12. Water Quality Tests (PDF, 9KB) - Salinity of Water and Nitrate/Nitrite levels in water
Appendix A,B, and C (PDF, 420KB) - References, Soil Respiration (alternative method), EC and pH Meter Maintenance and Calibration
Appendix D Building a Soil Quality Test Kit (9PDF, 5KB)
Data Sheets Soil Data Work Sheets (PDF, 50KB)

Section II – Background and Interpretive Guide

Background and Interpretive Guide for the Tests in Section I (PDF, 170KB)


Precision and Accuracy of Soil Quality Kit Tests

Liebig, M.A., J.W. Doran, and J.C. Gardner. 1996. Evaluation of a field test kit for measuring selected soil quality indicators. Agron. J. 88:683-686.

Seybold, C.A. and J.E. Herrick. 2001. Aggregate stability kit for soil quality assessments. Catena 44(1):37-45.

Herrick, J.E., W.G. Whitford, A.G. de Soyza, J.W. Van Zee, K.M. Havstad, C.A. Seybold, M. Walton. 2001. Soil aggregate stability kit for field-based soil quality and rangeland health evaluations. Catena 44(1):27-35.

Hubbs, M.D., D.W. Reeves, and C.C. Mitchell Jr. 1998. Measuring soil quality on the 'old rotation'. p. 50-54. In: T.C. Keisling (ed.) Proceedings of the 21st Annual Southern Conservation Tillage Conference for Sustainable Agriculture. July 15-17, 1998. North Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, Fayeeteville, Arkansas.

Evanylo, G and R. McGuinn. 2000. Agricultural management practices and soil quality: Measuring, assessing, and comparing laboratory and field test kit indicators of soil quality attributes.

Use of Soil Quality Test Kit

Cramer, C. 1994. Test your soils' health. The New Farm. Part 1 16:17-21. Part 2 16:40-45. Part 3 16:46-45.

Hubbs, M.D., C.A. Seybold, and D.D. Tylor. 2000. Effects of cotton tillage systems on soil quality using on-farm tests. Proceeding of the Beltwide Cotton Conference. Volume 1:45-47. National Cotton Council, Memphis, TN.

Sarrantonio, M., J.W. Doran, M.A. Liebig, and J.J. Halvorson. 1996. On-farm assessment of soil quality and health. p.83-106. In: J.W. Doran and A.J. Jones (eds.) Methods for assessing soil quality. SSSA Spec. Publ. 49.

Seybold, C.A., R.P. Dick, and F.J. Pierce. 2001. USDA soil quality test kit: Approaches for comparative assessments. Soil Survey Horizons 42(2):43-52.

Seybold, C., M. Hubbs, and D. Tylor. 2001. On-Farm Tests Indicate Effects of Long-Term Tillage Systems on Soil Quality. J. Sustainable Agric. 19(4):61-74.