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Next Level Ag combines best of soil health, traditional soil tests

NRCS hands examining soil
NEW TEST: With a new soil test, Next Level Ag makes fertilizer rate recommendations based on soil health, nutrient levels and other factors.
The Indicator Test measures nutrient levels and mineralization efficiency of the soil.

Next Level Ag LLC has come up with a combination of traditional soil test and a soil health test that has helped its customers increase their crop yields and cut fertilizer costs. The Indicator Test is a combination of the traditional university-style soil test and the Haney soil health test.

Next Level Ag LLC is based in Alpena, S.D., and works with ag retailers throughout the Midwest.

"We essentially took the most informative portions of each different style test and brought them together to get what we think is the best for modern agriculture; as this test not only gives credit for biological activity and carbon levels of the soil, but uses that information in concert with standard soil test results to create a better overall recommendation," says Jason Schley, Next Level Ag co-owner and agronomist.

Schley answered the following questions that Dakota Farmer submitted about the test:

How is the Indicator Test different from or like the Haney soil health test?
The Haney soil test revolves around the H3A extract, soil microbial activity levels, and water extractable organic carbon. These results are put through an algorithm developed by Dr. Rick Haney, and fertilizer recommendations are the output. We determined early on that sometimes (roughly 5% to 10% of the time) the fertilizer recommendations were calling for either too much or too little fertilizer to be applied. We attribute this over or under application due to the differing climate between where the recommendations were created for (Temple, Texas) and where we are implementing them (central South Dakota). To overcome these over and underapplications we decided to use the traditional soil test results as well in our own algorithm to try reduce the mis-recommendations of our soil test. 

How is your test different from the traditional fertility soil tests?
Our soil test is different than traditional soil tests because it is measuring organic nutrient pools alongside of inorganic nutrient pools, as well as determining how much of each pool can be expected to be plant available by looking at known nutrient tie ups as well as microbial activity. The nutrient tie ups focus on the inorganic forms of nutrients and their relationship to the other nutrient levels found in the soil how they affect each other. When looking at microbial activity we are focused on the organic nutrient pools and how much of those nutrients do we assume can or will become available due to mineralization or decomposition performed by the microbial community. 

Is yours better? Why?
We believe yes that our soil test is better, because we are taking into consideration two different schools of thought and meshing them together to create a soil test that not only looks at the chemistry components of the soil but goes beyond that to see what influence the biological and physical qualities of the soil are going to have on those chemical attributes. With this, we are able to get a broader view of what our soils need added to them to help our customers crops perform at the top level. 

How do you use the information from your soil health test?
We use the information that we glean from our soil health test to determine efficiency ratings for each of the major nutrients for each soil test. These efficiency ratings are influenced by both soil health test parameters and traditional soil test parameters. With these efficiency ratings, we are better able to predict how much of each nutrient will need to be applied to achieve the yield goal we are shooting for. 

What results have your customers seen?
We have seen our customers begin to reduce their fertilizer inputs while still improving their yields year to year. We have done this by identifying which soils are very efficient with nutrients and which are not so much. We are then able to reduce fertilizer levels in the nutrient efficient soils and take some of what was not applied there and put it towards our inefficient soils, which results in a reduction of fertilizer applied. 

Several agronomists and soil science specialists have published articles in recent years warning people about the Haney soil test. They don't think it has been calibrated enough so that it is predictive under a wide range of conditions. Is this a problem with the soil health test you do? Why or why not?
I do not believe this is a problem with the soil health test we utilize as we are still taking into consideration information from the traditional soil test and using that to help weight our decisions. Using these two schools of thought in concert together allows for almost a system of checks and balances so that one does not entirely override the other. I also believe the Haney test overwhelms some people and they don't give enough effort to understand its strengths. This is an issue in ag today, in my opinion.  

For more information, contact Schley at 605-354-2065 or [email protected], or visit

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