Defining & Achieving Healthy Soils

Healthy Soils

Definition of Healthy Soils

This section discusses soil organic matter (SOM), storage of carbon and the many co-benefits of healthy soil. 

A preferred hybrid definition of healthy soil: Healthy soil exhibits sustainable productivity, promoting plant growth with optimal efficiency with little to no disease or pests and without a need for major soil disturbances (like plowing and tillage) and without a need for off-farm supplements. For an in-depth discussion of soil health learn more HERE.

Soil Life Website and Video Series is a collaborative project between NRCS and the University of California, Davis that aims to educate people about the necessity of soil to support and sustain life. This interactive website highlights the connection between healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy people, and a healthy planet.

Web Soil Survey

Web soil survey

The USDA Web Soil Survey This site, the National Cooperative Soil Survey, provides access for viewing and printing maps for your area. For detailed information, contact your local USDA Service Center.

Soil Organic Matter as a Soil Health Indicator: Sampling, Testing and Interpretation

Oregon State University guide on measuring soil health and the use of management actions to increase SOM—soil sampling, methodology and practical implementation.

Enriching Soil, Enhancing Life

The Soil Health Institute is a nonprofit with the mission to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement. SHI recommends and details three measurement systems for scaling soil health assessments: 1) soil organic carbon concentration; 2) carbon mineralization potential; and 3) aggregate stability.

Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health

Cornell University Framework provides a manual and fact sheets for soil assessment, including factors such as water capacity, active carbon quantification, a process worksheet and management tool box. Click HERE to learn more.


working with soil

Oregon State University has a soil testing accredited lab in Corvallis, Oregon. Click here for soil sample instructions. It will provide information on how to collect a sample, submit it for review, interpretation of results, cost, and other information.

Farming with Soil Life: A Handbook for Supporting Soil Invertebrates and Soil Health on Farms 

This is a user-friendly guide to identifying, understanding, and better managing soil life to improve the sustainability of your farming system. Now available from the Xerces Society and SARE.

Farming in the 21st Century, a Practical Approach to Improve Soil Health

This handout produced by USDA NRCS. summarizes why soil health is important and how to make improvements on your farm.

Building Soils for Better Crops

A SARE publication for implementation of healthy soils.

The 5 Benefits of Sustainable Farming: A Top-Down Approach

An article explaining how farmers may enhance their long-term bottom line as well as lessen environmental consequences and encourage biodiversity when employing sustainable farming techniques.

CDFA Soil Biodiversity Publication

In August 2023 the California Department of Food and Agriculture released this report:

Soil Biodiversity in California Agriculture: Framework and Indicators for Soil Health Assessment. 

According to the CDFA, the report “provides targeted recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders to enhance soil health and conserve biodiversity, which plays an important role in climate resilience and food production.”   The report was authored by an advisory committee of soil scientists.   CDFA and other stakeholders will implement the recommendations in the report to achieve improved soil biodiversity and climate resilience.

Find an Analytical Soil Testing Lab in Oregon

View a chart of an extensive list of labs throughout Oregon where soil testing can be accomplished. 


Carbon Sequestration On Agricultural Lands

See also Carbon Marketplaces on this website.


Please review the full article written by OSU Dr. Kleber and others. Synopsis: We want to take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it in the soil. How much carbon can Oregon soils hold? And which soils in Oregon are best suited for this? Methods: Accordingly, we identified the need to determine the carbon sequestration potential of Oregon soils. Because the state is huge, we conducted an initial survey of data needs and availability, leading us to focus our efforts on Sherman, Gilliam, Morrow and Umatilla counties. More


USDA through NRCS and partners were funded under the Inflation Reduction Act for $300 million to invest in improved greenhouse gas measurements, monitoring, reporting and verification (MMRV) for agriculture and forestry lands. The work begins in 2023 and will include data collection and management, models, and tools. Additional information on USDA climate mitigation efforts can be found HERE.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing, securing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The idea is to stabilize carbon in solid and dissolved forms so that it doesn’t cause the atmosphere to warm. The process shows tremendous promise for reducing the human “carbon footprint.”


American Farmland Trust and Sierra View Solutions, LLC, analyze the current state of agricultural carbon programs, explore four main reasons why farmer participation may be low, and recommend 12 strategic changes that would help these programs, which are mainly focused on cropland, to succeed.






Computer Based Equipment that Can Identify Carbon Potential

USDA’s online carbon-capture calculator COMET-Farm is a computer tool with which producers enter information about their land and management, including location, soil characteristics, land uses, tillage practices and nutrient use. The tool then estimates how much carbon soil could capture on cropland, pasture and rangeland, and livestock operations. It also has an agro-forestry component. USDA has a useful article on COMET-Farm.  For a video on how the tool works, see COMET-Farm Video.

Calculate Your Carbon Potential

Type in your location and select values from the list, input acreage and selected practices to receive an instant carbon potential estimate at AGORO.

FAST-GHG Soil Tool

This is a fertilizer and soil tool designed to help quantify greenhouse gas emissions in crop production developed by Cornell faculty in partnership with researchers at Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy, FAST-GHG quantifies how soil management practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions using the Online Calculator.

Soils Revealed

Soils Revealed is a platform for visualizing how past and future management changes soil organic carbon stocks based on available soil data, information about the environment and computer simulations over time. The project involves collaboration with a number of partners.


A new data-driven tool is freely available that has the potential to unlock soil health solutions for the agriculture industry and conservation benefits for people and nature. The Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) can help increase and accelerate the rate of adoption of soil health practices across U.S. farmlands. The Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) uses satellite imagery to track annual trends in tillage and cover crop adoption, yielding data that can assist scientists, policy makers and carbon trading managers. See the YouTube video showing how this works.

The tool that uses publicly available data from several earth-observing satellites to annually map and monitor cover crop development and detect plant residue left on cropland to determine the tillage activities. Regrow, the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have spearheaded the development, testing and application of OpTIS.

Articles on Agricultural Carbon Sequestration

The Case for Carbon Farming in California – High Country News

Can Dirt Save the Earth? – NY Times

What Regenerative Agriculture Can Do for the Climate – “Yes” Magazine





“NWLs sequester approximately 714 million metric tons of carbon a year, equivalent to approximately 12% of the U.S.’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”  US Climate Alliance