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A Review of the Use of the Basic Cation Saturation Ratio and the "Ideal" Soil

Kopittke, P.M., Menzies, N.W.
Soil Science Society of America journal 2007 v.71 no.2 pp. 259-265
cations, cation exchange capacity, soil analysis, soil quality, soil fertility
The use of "balanced" Ca, Mg, and K ratios, as prescribed by the basic cation saturation ratio (BCSR) concept, is still used by some private soil-testing laboratories for the interpretation of soil analytical data. This review examines the suitability of the BCSR concept as a method for the interpretation of soil analytical data. According to the BCSR concept, maximum plant growth will be achieved only when the soil's exchangeable Ca, Mg, and K concentrations are approximately 65% Ca, 10% Mg, and 5% K (termed the ideal soil). This "ideal soil" was originally proposed by Firman Bear and coworkers in New Jersey during the 1940s as a method of reducing luxury K uptake by alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.). At about the same time, William Albrecht, working in Missouri, concluded through his own investigations that plants require a soil with a high Ca saturation for optimal growth. While it now appears that several of Albrecht's experiments were fundamentally flawed, the BCSR ("balanced soil") concept has been widely promoted, suggesting that the prescribed cationic ratios provide optimum chemical, physical, and biological soil properties. Our examination of data from numerous studies (particularly those of Albrecht and Bear themselves) would suggest that, within the ranges commonly found in soils, the chemical, physical, and biological fertility of a soil is generally not influenced by the ratios of Ca, Mg, and K. The data do not support the claims of the BCSR, and continued promotion of the BCSR will result in the inefficient use of resources in agriculture and horticulture.