NCERA13: Soil Testing and Plant Analysis

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA13: Soil Testing and Plant Analysis

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Economically profitable and environmentally sustainable crop production systems require proper soil testing and plant analysis. Insufficient fertilizer inputs will negatively impact crop yield and profitability, while excessive fertilizer applications, especially of nitrogen and phosphorus, can negatively impact surface- and ground-water quality. Methods for soil testing and plant analysis continue to evolve as analytical methods and crop production strategies change; and no single agricultural research and extension institution has the resources required to develop and validate all of the soil and plant testing methodologies currently used in the North Central region. However, research conducted in one state is often relevant to other states so cooperation and data sharing among states avoids unnecessary duplication of research and helps extend the utility of individual research results for extension related activities. The majority of producers’ soil and plant tissue samples in the North Central region are now analyzed by commercial laboratories, increased communication between land grant universities and commercial laboratories is vital to ensure consistency in soil testing and plant analysis methods and interpretation. Improved collaboration with this committee and commercial laboratories will be an area of emphasis in this project. In addition, land grant university guidance documents for fertilizer recommendations and soil and plant tissue sampling have become regulatory documents for livestock operations that must comply with the USEPA CAFO rule, so there is a great need to ensure that current methods for soil and plant tissue sampling and interpretations meet the dual goals of optimum crop production and environmental protection. A distinct need continues for a regional committee to stimulate and encourage interstate cooperation and transfer of soil testing and plant analysis information among land grant universities, commercial laboratories, state and federal agencies, and the diverse clientele served by these entities. The NCERA013 Committee serves to meet this need by facilitating cooperative research and educational programs in soil testing and plant analysis throughout the North Central region.

Recent work of the NCERA013 committee includes the revision of several chapters in NCR Res. Publ. No. 221, “Recommended chemical soil test procedures”. This revision included the addition of new methods and new instrumentation currently used by soil testing labs. The specific chapter revised include Soil Sampling Preparation (Chapter 1); pH and Lime Requirement (Chapter 4); Sulfate-Sulfur (Chapter 8), Greenhouse root Media (Chapter 11), and Laboratory Quality Assurance Program (Chapter 15). This publication is widely used and considered the main reference for soil test methods in the region by public and private soil testing labs, consultants, students, and government agencies. With the continuation of this regional project we expect to complete the revision of additional chapters. Furthermore, new guidelines will be developed as indicated in objectives 1 and 2 increasing the impact of the NCERA013 committee.
The NCERA013 committee also developed a new regional publication summarizing recent research on sulfur response studies in agronomic crops. This publication and the updated analysis method for sulfate-sulfur chapter provide a comprehensive overview of both the laboratory analysis and the agronomic value of the sulfate-sulfur test.
The new methods, publications, testing guidelines, and committee activities are disseminated primarily through the committee’s website. This website had more than 3,000 page views during 2010-2015, showing a high demand for publications and guidelines generated by the NCERA013 committee. Additionally, a very successful regional “soil and plant analyst workshop” is organized every other year by the committee (recently in 2011, 2013 and 2015). This workshop promoted discussions among public and private soil testing laboratories and help with the dissemination of current work by the committee and private lab collaborators.


  1. Develop a regional guidance manual explaining appropriate methods or strategies for soil sampling, including the pros and cons of the various methods available to producers and the agronomic professionals that work with them.
  2. Develop a regional guidance document for the concepts and rationale used to develop phosphorus and potassium fertilizer recommendations. The ultimate objective of this activity will be to develop fertilizer recommendations that are based on differences in crop, soil, climate and management rather than state boundaries.
  3. Develop a more formalized structure for information exchange between university and commercial soil test laboratory personnel throughout the region. This will likely include alternating the time for annual meetings every other year to allow for more commercial soil testing laboratory personnel input.
  4. Develop and improve a website to improve the marketing of the products and activities generated by this committee.
  5. Organize every other year a soil testing and plant analysis conference/workshop targeted to public laboratories to foster the use and understanding of improved soil/tissue testing methods and interpretations in the North-Central region.
  6. Update specific chapters of the book “Recommended Chemical Soil Test Procedures for the North Central Region”. The primary focus will be on phosphorus analysis methods.

Procedures and Activities

The committee will be composed of land grant university representatives with expertise in laboratory operations, soil testing and plant analysis, and field-based soil and plant tissue test calibration and correlation studies to develop nutrient recommendations. This committee will:

1. Meet annually to discuss: 1) the principles underlying various soil and plant tissue tests, 2) results of research on new analytical methods, innovations in laboratory operations and instrumentation, 3) the use of information technology and computer programming for lime and nutrient recommendations, 4) the role of soil and plant tissue testing in nutrient management plan development and implementation and 5) soil test result summaries by state and geographic regions.

2. Collaborate in research studies and literature reviews on various aspects of soil fertility diagnosis and correction including laboratory quality control and quality assurance, soil and plant tissue test correlations with crop responses to nutrient applications.

3. Foster the initiation of additional research where needed to improve soil testing, plant analyses and nutrient application recommendations by bringing these needs to the attention of the appropriate persons or agencies.

4. Maintain representation and provide advice to the North American Proficiency Testing (NAPT) program and state entities involved in laboratory oversight, and improve communications with the NC218, SERA006, SERA017 and NCERA180 Regional Committees. Continue a working relationship with SERA-IEG-6.

5. Disseminate outputs through, workshops, publications, and a website.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Write/revise chapters in NCR Res. Publ. No. 221, “Recommended chemical soil test procedures”.The following chapters will be revised with the target dates of completion listed: Chapter 10 Soil Organic Matter to be completed by March 2017. Chapter 6 Phosphorus to be completed by July 2018. Chapter 7 Potassium to be completed by September 2019. Chapter 9 Micronutrients to be completed by November 2020.
  • Develop a new regional publication on concept and rationale used to develop soil potassium fertilizer recommendations in the North-Central Region.
  • Develop a new regional publication on concept and rationale used to develop soil phosphorus fertilizer recommendations in the North-Central Region.
  • Increase the agricultural community’s knowledge about soil and plant analysis methods.
  • Improve collaboration between public and private laboratories by working together on current analytical challenges.
  • Committee members make recommendations on interpretation of soil and tissue analysis. These recommendations may a have significant economic impact for producers in the North Central Region and may limit adverse environmental consequences of excess nutrient applications.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Outreach and educational activities will be targeted towards increasing the knowledge of private laboratory staff, producers, the broader agricultural community and the general public regarding soil and plant analysis and interpretations. This will be done by preparing and publishing Extension bulletins, organizing regional laboratory workshops in 2017, 2019 and 2021, and otherwise serving as a source of information on soil and plant analyses, interpretation of analyses and nutrient application recommendations. In addition, the recommended methods bulletin as revised and required.

It is important to extend our knowledge beyond the North Central Region. Thus, we plan to continue exchange ideas and information with SERA006. A representative of this committee will attend the annual meeting of the SERA006 committee to coordinate research and educational activities with that committee. Likewise, a representative of the SERA006 committee will be invited to this committee’s annual meeting.

The North Central Region has a large number of commercial soil testing laboratories that utilize methodologies that have been previously proposed, evaluated and adopted as standard methods for soil analysis by this committee. We will increase our formal interactions with commercial soil testing laboratories during this project period. We will increase our formal interactions with NC1195 and SERA017 to ensure that nitrogen and phosphorus management information generated by those committees are similar to the recommendations generated by NCERA013.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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