Making Sense of Soil Health Testing: Ohio State’s Path Forward

The topic of soil health has been receiving a great deal of attention lately and farmers are increasingly interested in understanding more about their soils. There are a number of labs that now offer some sort of soil health package, typically made up of tests that reflect biological, chemical and physical components of the soil. Some of these tests have been around for some time, while others are relatively new. But as a farmer, how do you make sense of all these new soil tests, and what they mean for your operation and management?

Soil testing for nutrient analysis (standard soil testing) has a rich history, and in Ohio we enjoy an incredible infrastructure that helps us manage nutrients more effectively. This includes everything from a thriving private consultant industry that will help sample your soils to professional soil testing laboratories that will analyze your soils quickly for a few dollars, to the nutrient recommendations that Ohio State and others have developed over the decades and continue to revise today. These are all important pieces that inform us of what is required for optimal crop fertility. It’s easy to take this all for granted.

Soil health testing seeks to build on this infrastructure by providing additional information to farmers. Rather than focusing solely on soil chemistry, soil health testing seeks to provide farmers insight into the biological and physical structure components of soil and tie it all together in a common framework. This is a tall order and the field is still in its infancy. There are many more questions than answers at this point, but scientists, agronomists, farmers and others are working together and trying to make sense of it all.

Ohio State is actively engaged in soil health testing and we are striving to be a leader in this field, by providing timely, unbiased and scientifically-grounded information, tools and training to farmers, consultants and other stakeholders. The Healthy Soils Healthy Environment Signature program will help catalyze some of this work and provide a resource to the state. At present there are a number of research projects related to soil health and soil testing, including opportunities to have their soils tested. More information can be found here ( http://soilhealth.osu.edu/  ). Specifically, we have been working to develop soil test methods and better understand how they relate to soil function and crop response. Ohio State researchers are focused on the active, rapidly cycled fraction of organic mater as it’s the biologically active fraction of organic matter. We have also been conducting train-the-trainer workshops to educate OSU Extension Educators and others in soil health. But there is much work to do—from row crops to gardens, from rural fields to urban lots, from education to research. We are excited to be working in this important field and hope that you’ll consider working with us over the next few years.   Contact information email at culman.2@osu.edu

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About the C.O.R.N. Newsletter

C.O.R.N. Newsletter is a summary of crop observations, related information, and appropriate recommendations for Ohio crop producers and industry. C.O.R.N. Newsletter is produced by the Ohio State University Extension Agronomy Team, state specialists at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). C.O.R.N. Newsletter questions are directed to Extension and OARDC state specialists and associates at Ohio State.