Advancing Soil Health Testing

Recently we had the opportunity to visit with Will Brinton from Woodsend Laboratories, located in Maine.  Will made his way down to New Bremen, OH to personally work with us on some new methods that we are considering adding to our soil health measurement package.  Currently, we offer the Haney Test or as we call it the Soil Health Test.  However, one of my goals all along (Will's too from the beginning of his work in soil health, which started long before me)  was to be able to take methodology and add it on to a standard soil test.  Let a standard soil test be the chemical portion of the diagram below, but add in simple, cost effective tests that are reproducible to capture the physical and biological components of the soil.  Together all three give us soil health.  The tests do not need to be complex nor do they need to show significant differences, they just need to inform a producer if he/she is moving in the right direction.  

It has been my experience that maybe we are really over thinking these methods, which is why working with Will is such an honor.  Will has dedicated his career to find ways to more simply and cost effectively capture the biological and physical measurements.  Yesterday, Will was visiting to teach us his Volumetric Aggregate Stability Method (VAST) and review the Solvita Labile Amino Nitrogen Test (SLAN).  These are two simple measurements that we can potentially add to our 24 hour solvita respiration test to get a better handle on the diagram above.  The tests are simple, quick, and pretty cost effective which hopefully will allow producers to more consistently pair it with a standard soil test to develop a soil health index.  My picture didn't come out very well so I just borrowed one from Woodsend's website (Will's lab) to demostrate my point.  Using these tests you can begin to see how management is influencing your soil.  Most interesting in the case below is how no-till and cover crops can produce soil that is similar to virgin prairie.  This gives me hope that we can undo many of wrongs that we have created over the history of production agriculture.

In a similar fashion, the VAST test (for stable aggregates) can also begin to seperate soils based on management.  Below is a picture of Will demonstrating to our lab techs the simplicity of the VAST method.  We are going to continue to experiment with VAST and SLAN with the hopes of offering them to all of our custumers in the near future.  As I stated above, it is our goal to offer simple, quick, cost effective tests so consultants and producers can pair them with standard soil tests to help them make sound management decisions.  

I always feel that Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best, "A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself."  Soil health is nothing new.  In fact, there are thousands who have been successfully improving their soil for  hundreds of years.  However, until now laboratories had limited options to help producers measure their progress.  Well this is rapidly changing and will only get better with time.  Thanks again to Will for taking the time to visit with us!!  It was a great experience for everyone, especially as Will talks about soil health being his life's work.    Now I think it is mine turn to return the favor and get to Maine.  However, I refuse go in the winter!!

On Friday I am off to Northern Ohio to speak at a cover crop field day hosted by Dean Farms Cover Crop Sales and Service.  It should be a big crowd and I am looking forward to the opportunity to further discuss some of the methods I mentioned above.  These speaking engagements are always fun because I get back to my roots, which is being on the farm.


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