Friday, January 17, 2014

New Soil Health Test

Years of R&D and 14,000 trial tests have led to the launch of the Soil Health Tool, a new soil test offered by at least 3 labs across the USA, including Woods End Labs (Mt Vernon ME), Brookside Labs (OH) and Ward Labs (NE). The Soil Health Tool is “the next step” for labs already offering the Solvita test. The “Toolbox” has been under development by Will Brinton and Dr. Rick Haney (USDA-ARS-TX) and others since 2005. “It started by integrating soil biology in a manner adaptable to modern labs (Solvita), then expanded to include N-P-K in order to address farmer fertilizer issues”, according to Brinton.

Rollout meetings with growers and consultants during 2013 and early 2014 (PA, ND, OH, NE) have shown a very positive response that fits with the sense that there’s a new soil health movement that farmers are keen to participate in. On the lab reports, growers will see new terms such as “CO2 rate”, “microbial active carbon” and “water soluble carbon”.

These are used as indicators of biological factors linked to soil’s intrinsic nutrient supply powers. According to Haney (USDA ARS), “the methods use green chemistry, in that the soil analysis uses a soil microbial activity indicator, a soil water extract (nature’s solvent) and H3A, a soil extractant that mimics organic acids produced by living plant roots to temporarily change the soil pH, thereby increasing nutrient availability.” The end result of the new test is a rank called the Soil Health Score, “representing the overall health of the soil system. It combines 5 independent measurements of your soil’s biological properties” (Haney).

Ward Labs’ Lance Gunderson explains: “We have 3 labs in 3 differing regions collecting new soil health data, and that will help us understand regional potentials”.  And Brookside’s Dr Luke Baker: “We are very excited to offer the Soil Health Tool to our clients since soil testing methods are currently missing the biological component. With the Tool, we can include soil biology when estimating plant available nutrients. After analyzing hundreds of samples, we feel that this could be the missing link in soil plant nutrient analysis. There is still gathering calibration data (which we are currently doing), but the future looks bright.”

The Soil Health Tool is an open-source system. The main goal, Brinton says, is to “save farmers money on unneeded fertilization while at the same time taking stock on your soil’s health”. Samples can be sent to Woods End by clicking on the soil test link, or use the Soil Solvita map to find a lab near you.

Ed Winkle


  1. How would they account for travel time and temp? Wouldn't that have a direct affect on the sample?

  2. I assume that is being factored in but good live soil doesn't degrade too quickly in the bag. Dead soil, it doesn't matter?

    "Some will and some will not understand the significance.
    I spent the day on a tour to Dave Brandt's farm. He is the guru of cover crops and no-till farming.He demonstrated the importance of using them by driving us about His field areas in His own school bus.
    I had the best of two of my worlds.
    Some quotes:
    World wide the soil loss is 3.4 tons per year for every individual.The cost $70 for each person.
    In Iowa the organic matter in soil was 14% in 1883. Now it is down to 4%.This cannot continue.If it does We will be unable to produce a crop.
    Soil needs to be covered 320 days per year to prevent erosion. The days it's not frozen.
    Plant cover crops that produce nodules and grow your own nitrogen.Legume seeds require inoculant for Nitrogen fixation in soils."