Continually rising scarcity in water and nutrient resources, especially in semi-arid agricultural systems, combined with increased frequency of extreme weather events such as drought, contribute to a growing need for resilient and regenerative agricultural ecosystems. However, evaluating a myriad of combinations of producer-led sustainable management practices in on-farm research remains challenging. Few studies have elucidated spatial variability in measured soil properties across the study area due to logistical and economic constraints. As such, this study aimed to: 1) establish soil health assessment and landscape variability data immediately after land-use change to a sustainable pasture management system, and 2) delineate relationships and predictive capability between measured soil health parameters. Soil samples were collected on May 23, 2018 in a grid pattern across two adjacent pastures on a farm in the semi-arid Southern High Plains (Texas, USA) that had recently been converted from long-term continuous cotton production to grazed pasture. Significant differences were found in soil chemical and biological properties between pastures (e.g., ~37 % reduction in microbial community size and 36 and 178 % greater electrical conductivity (EC) and Na contents, respectively, in the East pasture) that likely resulted from recent tillage and receiving irrigation compared to similar soil types and management history in the West pasture. Spatial diagrams of measured parameters revealed localization of measured properties, such as higher clay content and soil organic matter in the southeastern portion of the study area, and clear boundaries between pastures in terms of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) distribution. Soil physical and chemical properties were sufficiently correlated with biological measurements to predict soil microbial community size based on routine soil test analyses. The patterns of distributed elements evaluated in this study can provide a basis for management decisions on soil health and potential contaminant monitoring across the study area. These findings provide insight as to how novel, producer-designed soil health management practices in small semi-arid production systems impact soil properties, as well as help develop cost-effective predictive modeling solutions that aid long-term monitoring efforts. Such strategies will be critical tools in resource-scarce semi-arid regions such as those found in the current study region of Texas, as well as similar semi-arid regions such as northern China and northeastern Brazil. Overall, the results of this study provide direction for long-term soil health monitoring at this site, as well as a critical evaluation of relationships between soil health indicator measurements that aids interpretation and management planning.
- Landscape variability