Difference Between Soil Fertility, Soil Health & Soil Quality

Soil fertility, health and quality can often be confused for being the same thing.

They are not though.

Below is a very short outline of what each is, and how they are each slightly different.


Summary – Difference Between Soil Fertility, Soil Health & Soil Quality

Some general descriptions:

Soil Fertility – ability of soil to sustain agricultural production

Soil Health – goes beyond fertility. Takes into consideration factors like soil structure, biological activity, soil health issues, and so on

Soil Quality – takes into consideration the ability of soil to support and sustain the needs of eco systems and the environment, plants and animals, air and water quality, and human health 


Soil Fertility

Ability of the soil to sustain agricultural plant growth and provide consistent yields.

Fertile soil contains both macro (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and micro nutrients in the right quantities.

Read more about the factors that impact soil fertility in this guide.


Soil Health

Soil health goes beyond soil fertility and additionally considers factors like soil structure and biological activity. Good soil health means the soil is good for agricultural production, but also does not have any soil health issues such as soil erosion, acidification, salinity and so on. 

Consider this comprehensive explanation of what soil health is, and what determines it:

  • Soil health … ‘derives from a strong interaction between the physical, chemical, and biological components of the soils’ … Geology, topography, climate, vegetation, human activity, and time, shape these factors … and, in turn, determine soil fertility, biodiversity, nutrient recycling, physical structure, carbon retention, and other ecological functions that make for soil health.

– rethink.earth


Soil Quality

… Soil quality is the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation (wikipedia.org)

A healthy soil has biological, chemical and physical properties that promote the health of plants, animals and humans while also maintaining environmental quality. (soilquality.org.au)

So, soil quality considers the needs and requirements that humans, and animals and plants have for that soil.

You can find an example of a Soil Quality map at http://www.soilquality.org.au/au/sa 

The different factors that make up each soil quality indicator (biological, chemical and physical are listed and grouped with data)



1. http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/soils/what-is-a-healthy-soil

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_quality

3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/soil-quality 

4. http://www.soilquality.org.au/ 

5. https://rethink.earth/turning-desert-to-fertile-farmland-on-the-loess-plateau/ 

6. http://www.soilquality.org.au/au/sa

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