Erie, Ill. — Midwest farmers now have a resource nearby to provide soil biology assessments quickly and accurately as Midwest Bio-Tech recently opened Illinois’ first dedicated soil health lab.

“We can assess soil health and measure biological activity – two critical indicators of potential crop productivity,” says Doug Miller, vice president. “These tests provide a direct measure of microbial activity in the soil, where in the past farmers have only had access to indirect measures and couldn’t see biological changes that impact soil structure, nutrient uptake, and yield.”

The Midwest Bio-Tech Soil Health Lab offers tests for carbon dioxide respiration, amino-nitrogen, and soil aggregate stability. These tests and more can be performed quickly so that the results can be returned in just a few days. The Soil Health Lab is an approved partner lab for Woods End Laboratories, originators of the Solvita test for soil respiration.

The soil health tests provide information that complements the fertility and soil chemistry results reported in traditional soil tests. By learning about the biological aspects of the soil, farmers can potentially save production costs by making informed decisions on nutrients and other inputs that impact yield.

Miller notes that Midwest Bio-Tech started using soil health tests four years ago to measure the impact of the Chandler Crop Products that the company markets. “However, we have also used these tests to measure the impact of other farming practices that can affect soil health,” Miller explains. “Last year, we helped individual customers evaluate different tillage programs and cover crop mixes.”

The recommended frequency of soil health testing depends on the farmer and their operation. Miller explains that some farmers test more frequently than others, especially if they're making production adjustments such as changing tillage or incorporating cover crops Also, the number of samples to collect from each field depends on the number of distinct soil types and management zones in the field.

As Miller explains, “We can learn a lot from soil samples collected from just a few sites in each field.”

Tests available from the Midwest Bio-Tech Soil Health Lab include the Solvita CO2 Burst Test, Solvita Labile Amino Nitrogen (SLAN) test, Volumetric Aggregate Stability Test (VAST), soil pH, bulk density, soil organic matter, electrical conductivity and more.