New Soil Health Toolbox Evaluates Plant Nutrients

Jamie JohansenAgribusiness, Soil, Soil Sampling

woods-endNow, labs can test soil health more accurately with a new Soil Health Nutrient Toolbox from Woods End Laboratories in Mt. Vernon, Maine.

“Years of research have led to this new way of testing soil,” Woods End Founder William Brinton, Ph.D., said. “Now, three labs are offering the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Soil Health Nutrient Toolbox, and we hope to expand this worldwide, with the number of labs offering the test covering every region throughout the country.”

According to Luke Baker, Ph.D., an agronomist and laboratory specialist at Brookside Laboratories, Inc., “We are very excited to offer this Soil Health Nutrient Toolbox since soil testing methods have been missing the biological component.With this 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.”

During 2013 and early 2014, the new soil test was rolled out in meetings with growers and consultants, with a very positive response. But the idea of a “Soil Health Nutrient Toolbox” has really been under development by several scientists since early 2000, paralleling the huge increase of farmers using cover crops to build soils.

In fact, Dr. Brinton and Richard L. Haney, Ph.D., a soil scientist with USDA Agricultural Research Services (ARS) in Texas, collaborated extensively to standardize a cost-effective soil biology test adaptable to commercial labs. The basis for this was the Woods End Solvita® test, which measures microbial CO2-respiration in a simple, pre-calibrated procedure. Then, the USDA-ARS expanded it to include “green chemistry” as a new way of measuring soil nutrients in order to address farmer fertilizer issues. The resulting package is considered the next step for soil labs performing routine testing.

The kit is currently available at three American labs: Woods End, Brookside (New Bremen, Ohio) and Ward Labs (Kearney, Neb.). Woods End is looking to expand the availability of the Toolbox. Therefore, growers are encouraged to ask their labs to incorporate this test into their overall continuum. Many labs in the U.S. have already adopted the Solvita test for soil biology, including those at Rutgers University and University of Maine.