Soil test provide important information

Gloria Hafemeister

The Haney Test or Soil Health Test is an integrated approach to soil testing using chemical and biological soil test data. It is designed to mimic nature’s approach to soil nutrient availability as best we can in the lab. The Haney Test is designed to work with any soil under any management scenario because the program asks simple, universally applicable questions.

What is your soil’s condition? Is your soil in balance? What can you do to help your soil?

Ray Archuleta, NRCS soil health specialist, says the first step is to stick a shovel into a field, and see, smell, and touch it – which certainly helps.

“That crumbly, dark, cottage-cheese looking stuff full of roots and bits of organic matter – that’s a good sign! But it’s difficult to quantify that,” Archuleta said.

Most common soil tests are based on soil nutrient quantity which is related to, but not directly correlated with, soil “health” as it’s being defined these days. The idea of active microbial systems, living roots, mycorrhizae, water-holding capacity…is not evident in standard NPK recommendations.

This new test was developed by Rick Haney, a soil scientist with USDA. The Haney Test considers many of the same soil nutrients as standard soil tests, but incorporates the microbial activity of the soil.

Soil microbes are responsible for converting nutrients to (and from) plant-useable forms, to maintain soil structure and aggregation, and contribute to organic matter production through decomposition.

The Haney Test comes back with an Excel file of data along with explanations and recommendations. The microbial activity information is combined with standard soil tests to estimate how much N, P, and K is available in the soil (and to suggest fertilization schemes).

Standard tests measure the amount of a nutrient currently available to the plants – a snapshot, really – while the Haney test also includes potential available nutrients, based on microbial activity.

“Remember that microbes are converting minerals into plant-useable forms, in healthy soils,” Archuleta said.

In a healthy soil, fertilizer recommendations for N, P, and K will be less than a standard soil test and that saves on the investment in establishing plants.