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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

New publication on soil health in Jharkhand

Appearing in the journal Applied Soil Ecology, this new publication “Soil health characterization in smallholder agricultural catchments in India” discusses findings from the Tata-Cornell Institute Soil Health Project in eastern India. By Phillip S.D. Frost, Harold M. van Es, David G. Rossiter, Peter R. Hobbs, and Prabhu L. Pingali

About the Authors

Lead author Phil Frost (Cornell SIPS MS Soil Science ’16) was a Tata-Cornell Scholar whose research focused on soil health and the development of an appropriate Soil Health Assessment Framework for Indian agriculture. Professor Harold van Es is a TCI Faculty Fellow. He, along with Professors David Rossiter and Peter Hobbs, are respected scientists in the fields of soil science, geospatial modeling and analysis, crop science and agronomy. Each are faculty members of the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.  Professor Prabhu Pingali is an applied economist and Director of the Tata-Cornell Institute.


  • Soils in Jharkhand, India generally show physical, biological and chemical constraints related to crop production
  • Phosphate (P) and potassium (K) are low due to negative nutrient balances, although minor nutrients are generally sufficient
  • Cultivation practices, organic matter additions, and natural processes affect organic matter dynamics and soil health


Soil health (SH) of managed lands in India is affected by anthropogenic activities such as nutrient mining, excessive tillage, and monocropping, which reduce the productive capacity of soils. A comprehensive SH characterization was conducted in 27 catchments in six districts of Jharkhand, India. Each was stratified into four landscape positions: (i) uncultivated upland in tree vegetation, (ii) cultivated upland in garden or orchard use, and (iii) midland and (iv) lowland areas in rice-fallow fields, yielding 113 soil samples from 0 to 15 cm and 20 from 30 to 40 cm depths. Soil textural separates as well as 15 dynamic physical, biological, and chemical properties were assessed using the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health framework. Nutrient analyses indicate low to very low P and K values, but high micronutrient levels. A district level ANOVA shows effects of inherent soil factors on the indicators. The influence of tillage, nutrient extraction as well as landscape hydrology on soil health indicators was apparent, notably showing uncultivated soils with higher overall SH. Puddle tillage affected the surface and subsurface soil, the latter showing reduced water holding capacity and less favorable biological indicators. Multivariate analyses showed directional separation of biological and chemical indicators in the first two principal components. A Best Subsets Regression analysis revealed organic matter, soil respiration and active carbon as the most predictive in determining overall SH scores (R2 adj = 0.87). In conclusion, a comprehensive soil health assessment using a spatial framework in Jharkhand, India identified multiple SH constraints related to farmer management, associated organic matter dynamics, and natural factors.