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Revitalized MU Soil Characterization Lab will find new home in CAFNR

For many years the Soil Testing Lab at the University of Missouri has been a valuable resource for producers of the state. Results from the tests give farmers a list of recommendations to improve crop and forage yields. But a lesser-known testing facility is getting a facelift and will be ready to receive samples come spring.

Once housed in the MU College of Engineering, ownership of the MU Soil Characterization Lab is transferring to the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Lab space is being renovated at the college’s South Farm Research Center, located just minutes from the campus in Columbia to better serve its clients.

“What we want to give to people is a biological assessment of their soil,” said Randy Miles, associate professor of soil science. “We are testing active soil carbon. We are then going to reference those results against areas that are specific to the sample’s major land resource area. We will assess areas of undisturbed prairie, pristine forests, cultivated fields and even areas that have been under cover crops.”

Instead of just recommendations the lab will give results on the soil properties and the attributes of active carbon. By referencing the results against other sites, it gives the grower better comprehension of the test based on localized and site-specific indexes.

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“Think of it like human genetics,” added Miles. “Each of us is born with specific traits. The same is with soil. Some areas inherit certain traits and can’t be changed. We want to look at how we can improve soil health based on what is possible.”

Results from tests also can help determine if certain management practices are needed or not, and if some are more helpful than others.

“Sometimes we give a couple of different management recommendations, but if we start to find out only one or two of the three suggested strategies are getting the job done that can have a huge impact on efficiency,” said Miles.

As the lab distributes results from producers, it will build on a database for future tests. The more location assessments the lab accumulates, the more it will help a producer define their specific site as healthy.

The MU Soil Characterization Lab is unique as it is the only remaining lab of its kind at a land-grant university. The only other lab is the National NRCS Kellogg Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Neb.

“Having our connections with the world-class lab in Nebraska gives us an invaluable resource for our clients,” said Miles. “This allows us to collaborate on a national level for our producers in Missouri.”

A new website about the lab and how to submit samples will be available soon. For more information, contact Randy Miles at 573-882-6607.