• Ground cover, USLEa, direct measures of nutrient, sediment and pesticide fluxes, area in cover crops or perennial vegetation, soil aggregate stability, water-holding capacity, porosity, water infiltration rate

• Crop-vegetation management, nutrient management, and erosion and runoff control

• Plant cover crops, use of organic amendments, soil and tissue tests, conservation tillage, mulches, grass waterways, buffer strips, riparian vegetation, treatment wetlands

c. Conserve freshwater supply

• Crop water use efficiency, water consumption, ground water overdraft, pumping rates

• Irrigation management

• Drip irrigation, irrigation scheduling based on evapotransporation or soil moisture

d. Reduce pesticide use

• Pest populations, natural enemy populations, weed biomass, percent weed cover, vegetation diversity, presence of perennial habitat

• Management of pest complex

• Integrated pest management practices, biological and ecological approaches, soil organic matter management, crop breeding

e. Conserve and enhance biodiversity

• Biodiversity estimates (for example, number of plant species, number of species within selected animal groups, habitat diversity, landscape complexity, and connectivity)

• Habitat management

• In-field insectaries, hedgerows, riparian vegetation, habitat corridors, natural habitat fragments

aUniversal soil loss equation.

systems in a holistic way. Chapter 5 uses a few farming systems to illustrate how systems research is conducted and how the practices can work together to achieve multiple environmental, economic, and social sustainability goals.

The following sections, however, focus on a series of activities that constitute crop and animal production, and highlight particular practices that are seen, or have the potential, to enhance sustainability. The emphasis is on developments that have occurred over the last 20 years.


Management of soil to improve sustainability is a complex matter that requires a thorough understanding of its physical, chemical, and biological attributes and their interactions. Proper soil management is a key component of sustainable agricultural production practices as it produces crops and animals that are healthier and less susceptible to pests and diseases. It provides a number of important ecosystem services, such as reduced nitrogen runoff and better water-holding capacity (NRC, 1993). Mismanagement of soil can result in physical, chemical, and biological degradation (Lal, 2004b), as discussed in Chapter 2. Soil management is critical to improving environmental sustainability of farming systems. Proper soil management practices aim to:

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