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Should soil health test results be used when determining fertilizer needs in Minnesota?

Should soil health test results be used when determining fertilizer needs in Minnesota?

Should soil health test results be used when determining fertilizer needs in Minnesota? : Minnesota Crop News : University of Minnesota Extension

by Lizabeth Stahl, Extension Educator – Crops; Fabián G. Fernández  and Daniel E. Kaiser, Extension Nutrient Management Specialists
soil test
Photo 1. Soil sampling

Soil health and how to improve and maintain it has been a hot topic in agriculture recently. Soil tests, including the Haney Test, have been developed to help measure indicators of soil health such as microbial activity, the amount of carbon in the soil, and nutrient availability. As more farmers use soil health tests, the question arises if results from these tests can or should be used in determining fertilizer needs for crops like corn in Minnesota.

The importance of correlation and calibration

To help address this question, it is critical to recognize the importance of correlation and calibration in developing fertilizer recommendations. When soil is sent to a laboratory for analysis, specific procedures and extractants are used to determine the estimated availability of nutrients. Different extracts and procedures typically result in different estimates of nutrient availability. The process of correlation helps determine the relationship between plant nutrient uptake or yield and the amount of nutrient extracted from the soil. A soil test is considered “correlated” when lower yield and plant growth can be predicted at lower soil test values, and higher yield and plant growth can be predicted at higher soil test values.

It is then important to determine how much fertilizer is needed to meet crop nutrient needs at different soil test levels. This is called calibration. The University of Minnesota has conducted extensive correlation and calibration research across Minnesota in developing fertilizer guidelines, using standard soil testing procedures and extractants, and this research continues.

Little to no correlation and calibration research has been done with the procedures and extractants utilized by nonstandard tests like the Haney Test in Minnesota.

It is also important to note that soil test results from a lab may include fertilizer recommendations that are not based on correlation and calibration research conducted in Minnesota and that recommendations listed as a “University” recommendation may not be from the University of Minnesota. This is important as soil type, soil pH, precipitation, temperature, soil organic matter, cropping rotation, and soil parent material influence soil nutrient availability and ultimately fertilizer application needs.

Nitrogen comparisons

To help compare results from the Haney Test to standard soil testing procedures, trials were conducted at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton in 2015, supported by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and NCR-SARE. When samples were collected in the spring, the Haney Test indicated much lower available nitrogen than standard soil testing procedures (37 to 97 lbs/acre less, Table 1). These lower amounts with the Haney Test would trigger a higher nitrogen application rate than when using standard testing procedures and U of MN Fertility Guidelines. Differences were minimal at the fall sampling date (1 to 17 lbs/acre greater available nitrogen with the Haney Test).

Table 1. Comparison of results for estimated available nitrogen from soil samples analyzed with the Haney test and standard soil testing procedures. As per protocol, samples were collected from a 0-6 inch depth for the Haney test and 0-6 and 6-24 inch depths for the standard test. The larger number in each comparison is bolded. To continue reading this article please click the link.