The future of farming: Maine-developed soil test helps explain unstable crop yields

3 mins read
Brinton at the Mt. Vernon location in 2021.

AUGUSTA – In a recently published study, a revolutionary soil test developed in Maine takes the spotlight, according to William Brinton, the scientist credited with its creation.

The prestigious Scientific Reports, a nature journal, details how an innovative Soil Health Test, pioneered by Brinton, founder and former CEO and chief scientist of Maine’s Woods End Laboratories, can provide farmers with vital insights into soil health and carbon sequestration by assessing historical crop yields across different sections of agricultural fields.

Utilizing the Soil Health Test developed in Maine, a team from Michigan State University (MSU) demonstrated a clear correlation between farm crop yields and soil health. These findings offer farmers valuable information to optimize input costs, increase yield, and minimize environmental impact. Research was orchestrated by MSU climate scientist Bruno Basso, working with Brinton.

Collaboratively, MSU, overseeing farm selection, and Woods End Laboratories, responsible for comprehensive analysis, have engaged with farmers globally. Together, they have pioneered methodologies to assess soil and crop yields, aligning with improved soil quality and more consistent yields.

Soil health evaluation encompasses a holistic examination of biological, chemical, and physical attributes, providing a more integrated approach than conventional pH and N-P-K tests, common for farmer soil labs.

While the concept of soil health has been a subject of extensive discussion, it is widely acknowledged to play a pivotal role in addressing challenges such as soil erosion and water pollution stemming from the runoff of agricultural chemical nutrients like phosphorus and nitrate.

The new Woods End Laboratories location in Augusta.

Brinton has been at the forefront of soil quality testing since establishing the soil test company in Hancock County, Maine in 1975, a venture initiated during his time on an organic farm. Subsequently, Brinton pursued international studies, earning degrees in soil, plant, and environmental science before returning to Maine to grow the business.

His early commitment to innovating soil testing methods strategically positioned the company to address contemporary global needs, particularly in the realm of soil carbon sequestration, recognized as a potential climate change mitigation strategy. This focus aligns with USDA grants targeting soil quality and “climate-smart” farming. Woods End Labs has received two substantial USDA grants also in collaboration with MSU, dedicated to the study of soil carbon and soil health. A recent grant aims to facilitate outreach programs, aiding Northeastern farmers in gaining a deeper understanding of soil-related issues.

Originally situated in rural Mt Vernon, Maine, the soil test company, known for its SOLVITA test, has following Brinton’s retirement relocated its headquarters to Whitten Road in Augusta. Brinton serves the company in the capacity of a science advisor, and acts as Faculty Associate advising students at University of Maine.

Contact the soil test manufacturer Woods End Labs at lab@woodsend.com or 207-293-2453.

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