Usefulness of the Haney soil health test for Ontario grain farmers

Principal Investigator

Laura L. Van Eerd

Research Institution

University of Guelph

Project Start

April 2015

Project End

March 2018


  • Assess the validity and applicability of the Haney soil health test in Ontario.
  • Compare the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilizer recommendations of the Haney soil health test to Ontario soil-based recommendations.
  • Quantify cropping system management practices that, over the long-term, affect (negatively or positively) soil health.


  • The increased knowledge of management practices that enhance or maintain soil health will enable growers to manage production practices for soil health and could increase crop productivity and resiliency to extreme/challenging weather conditions.
  • The results could lead to the development of a provincial recommendation of the most appropriate measure of soil health.
  • The validation and applicability of the Haney soil health test and the applicability of the Haney test to predict N and P fertilizer requirements may allow for cost effective tests; alternatively if results suggest that the test is not applicable in Ontario it will save growers money by avoiding investment in an ineffective test.

Scientific Summary

Healthy soil is critical to crop productivity, resiliency and ultimately profitability of Ontario’s farmers. There is no recognized soil health test and there is much debate as to the “best” soil health indicator. Dr. Rick Haney at the USDA Agricultural Research Services has developed a new soil health test that is been evaluated for use in the USA. The Haney soil health test evaluates chemical and biological indicators and was developed in Texas under grassland conditions. Although Haney soil health test has been assessed elsewhere in the USA, the interpretation of the results is difficult due to the lack of direct comparisons of cropping systems. That is, you don’t know if the results are different because of crop management or because they sampled different fields to begin with. This test may be attractive to Ontario farmers as it is relatively cheap and commercially available. But the validity and applicability Haney soil health test to detect meaningful differences in soil health in Ontario within diverse cropping systems is not known.

This project will evaluate the Haney soil health test, using the two most applicable field crop long-term experiments in Ontario at Ridgetown and Elora. These long-term experiments compare two tillage systems (no-till and strip tillage) to conventional fall moldboard plow tillage and 5 to 8 crop rotations (crops include corn, soybean, winter wheat, alfalfa, red clover, spring cereals). Furthermore, the long-term P and K experiments established in 2008 at Ridgetown, Elora, and Bornholm will be used to evaluate the recommended P fertilizer applications provided by the Haney soil test. Understanding the role of management practices (tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, fertilizers) on soil health and having tools to measure soil health will benefit growers by maintaining crop productivity, improving resiliency and economic viability.