Conserving Soil Quality on Farms in Hawai'i Soil quality and the conservation of soil quality is an often overlooked part of environmental and economical maintenance. Without quality soil available for the use of plant and microbial life, neither crop production for human consumption nor an area's natural ecosystem can be supported…
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By the time measurable damage to the soil quality has occurred, crop yield may already be irrecoverably failing (Stocking, 2003). This relationship can even hold true in areas that with volcanically-enriched soil such as the tropical islands of the state of Hawai'i. To understand soil conservation for farming in Hawai'i, the first step is to understand the background of soil quality conservation, with a focus on the issues specific to the tropical islands. Only then can workable solutions be found and analyzed for suitability to the specific situation found on the Hawai'ian islands. A clear definition of soil quality is necessary for a conservation project to be undertaken. Unless soil quality is clearly and definitively described, it is impossible for researchers to design tests and measurements to study the current state of the soil quality. However, soil quality has proven a very difficult concept to define, especially as soil quality has so many different parameters in many different spheres of scientific study. Defining soil quality as a term is not the same as defining other widespread environmental terminology such as air quality or water quality. This is due to the fact that air quality or water quality are not based on the usage of the material or its relationship relative to a “natural” state, but merely on the lack of specific pollutants or on the levels of such pollutants (Sojka & Upchurch, 1999). Since pure soil cannot exist by definition, and clean soil varies dependent on location, pollutants within soil can be limited only to specific non-natural products, such as industrial wastes or household chemicals (Cowan & Talaro, 2006). Soil quality, on the other hand, is determined by the soil's ability to support certain usage and by healthy levels of bacterial, animal, and plant life (Sojka & Upchurch,1999). Measuring soil quality in tropical regions, on the other hand, is simplified because of the reduction in the number of related variables. Many attributes of topsoil quality in tropical regions of the world, including Hawai'i, are quantitative and measurable. Assuming those conditions to be true, soil quality can then be measured using a fertility capability soil classification system (Sanchez, Palm, and Buol, 2003). Other single-attribute measurements of soil quality are such concerns as soil compactability or erodibility based on location or use, but the fertility classification most affects the ability of the soil to support intensive crop farming, which is the concern of this review (Parr et al., 1992). The fertility capability classification systems are not without their faults, but they provides a starting point for measuring the success of a given conservation program by providing a quantitative standard. A measurement that makes use of this system would be comparable to future measurements under the same system, allowing a researcher to compare numerically the success of the method under study (Sanchez, Palm, & Buol, 2003). Soil systems in tropical regions tend to be extremely dynamic, changing rapidly over short periods of time. Within these systems, soil quality may vary widely from location to location even between patches of soil in the same forest (Parr et al., 1992; Stocking, 2003). In such a dynamic system, nutrients rarely have time to accumulate in the tropical
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