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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Soil Health Characterization in Smallholder Agricultural Catchments in India


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 (R2adj = 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.

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