Visible near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (VNIRS) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) are potential methods for the rapid and less expensive assessment of soil quality indicators (SQIs). The specific objective of this study was to compare VNIRS and LIBS for assessing SQIs. Data was collected from over 140 soil samples taken from multiple agricultural management systems in New Mexico, belonging to arid and semiarid agroecosystems. Sampled sites included New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center research fields and several commercial farm fields in New Mexico. Partial least squares regression (PLSR) was used to establish predictive relationships between spectral data and SQIs. Fifteen soil measurements were modeled including the soil organic matter (SOM), permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC), total microbial biomass (TMB), total bacteria biomass (TBB), total fungi biomass (TFB), mean weight diameter of dry aggregates (MWD), aggregates 2–4 mm (AGG > 2 mm), aggregates < 0.25 mm (AGG < 0.25 mm), wet aggregate stability (WAS), electrical conductivity (EC), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), and iron (Fe). Overall, calibrations based on measurements irrespective of locations performed better for LIBS and combined VNIRS-LIBS. Measurements separated according to locations highly improved the quality of prediction for VNIRS as compared to combined locations. For example, the prediction R2
values for regression of VNIRS were 0.19 for SOM, 0.30 for POXC, 0.24 for MWD, 0.15 for AGG > 2 mm, and 0.13 for EC in combined datasets irrespective of location. When separated according to locations, for one of the locations, the predictive R2
values for VNIRS were 0.48 for SOM, 0.70 for POXC, 0.67 for MWD, 0.60 for AGG > 2 mm, and 0.51 for EC. The prediction values varied with the sampling time for both LIBS and VNIRS. For example, the prediction values of some SQIs using VNIRS were higher in samples collected in winter for measurements, including SOM (0.90), MWD (0.96), WAS (0.66), and EC (0.94). Using the VNIRS, the corresponding predictive values for the same SQIs were lower for samples collected in the fall (SOM (0.61), MWD (0.45), WAS (0.46), and EC (0.65)). While this study illustrates the prospects of VNIRS and LIBS for estimating SQIs, a more comprehensive evaluation, using a larger regional dataset, is required to understand how the site and soil factors affect VNIRS and LIBS, in order to enhance the utility of these methods for soil quality assessment in arid and semiarid agroecosystems.