Transferring Information from Research lab to Farm Field: Evaluation of On-Farm Soil Quality Tests Kits for Grower Use in Sustainable Strawberry Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Gail Nonnecke
ISU Horticulture Department

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: earthworms, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health


    The use of a soil quality test kit at two Iowa fruit and vegetable farms shows that grower attitudes toward the usefulness of the kit can be enhanced by having growers use the kit in their fields and by seeing its effectiveness for themselves. The kits were effective at measuring changes in field soil based on changes in crop management, time of year, and climatic conditions. These results enhanced the grower’s attitude of using soil kits by showing upward and downward trends in soil quality based on soil management decisions made by the growers over the course of a year. Based on the results of a questionnaire mailed to Iowa small fruit growers in 2005 and 2006, awareness of the soil quality test kit and soil quality concepts increased over the period. Interest in using a field test kit to monitor soil conditions to help improve crop productivity remained high. Cooperating strawberry growers felt that the information provided by the soil quality test kit was useful, but they were uncomfortable taking and interpreting the measurements themselves. The growers suggested that the kit would be practical for people with more expertise in the area of soil quality, such as extension personnel or qualified crop consultants.


    Physical and chemical analyses of field soil have been proven useful for monitoring nutrient status in strawberry production. However, these analyses can be improved by measuring biological properties in addition to physical and chemical properties. Biological indicators in soil are very sensitive to changes in their environment and can be an early indicator of soil quality trends (Rice et al., 1996). Thus biological properties such as soil respiration and microbial C and N have the potential to be good indicators of soil quality (Kennedy and Papendick, 1995). The soil quality data collected can be quantified and used as a component of an overall soil quality index. The soil quality index can be used by strawberry growers to compare different soil management practices or to monitor changes in soil quality in the same field over time. Several mathematical formulas have been proposed for this purpose (Doran and Parkin, 1996; Gregorich et al., 1994; Karlen et al., 1997; Kennedy and Papendick, 1995; Parr et al., 1992; Seybold et al., 1997; Singh et al., 1992) and we will base our model on these. In order to bring the soil quality concept to a wider audience the USDA-ARS developed the Soil Quality Test Kit to be used as an assessment tool for managing land in a sustainable way while maintaining profitability (Andrews et al., 2002; Ditzler and Tugel, 2002; Wander et al., 2002). The kit was designed to be used by USDA personnel and landowners and incorporates biological indicators of soil quality in the soil quality analysis.

    Project objectives:

    This project was initiated to familiarize Iowa fruit growers with a method to improve their ability to monitor soil quality trends in a relatively quick and cost-effective manner and was composed of two parts: Part 1) On-farm research trial with strawberry growers, and Part 2) A controlled, randomized and replicated research experiment carried out at an ISU research station.

    The objectives for part one: 1) assist two commercial strawberry growers in the use of a soil quality test kit on their farm, collect and interpret soil quality data, and obtain their perspective on its usefulness, 2) present state and regional fruit growers with information and research results about soil quality testing, 3) conduct soil quality interest survey of Iowa small fruit growers.

    The objectives for part two: 1) Examine the influence of four weed management systems in strawberry production on the physical, chemical, and biological indicators of soil quality, 2) Combine physical, chemical, and biological soil properties into a soil quality index for strawberry production, 3) Determine and correlate the impact of weed management systems and a proposed soil quality index on weed and strawberry plant growth and development.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.