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The Haney Test: Reshaping Soil Health by Following Nature’s Blueprint

By Casidy Spencer

Drs. Liz and Rick Haney are soil scientists living in Temple, Texas. The two met during their graduate studies at Texas A&M – Rick earning a PhD and Liz at the time, working her Masters. Leading up to this, Rick had worked with many farmers and seen firsthand how difficult the lifestyle seemed.

“When I went to grad school, my main objective was to come up with something that would help [land managers] do something… Soil testing seemed to be the area where I could have the greatest impact,” says Rick.


Dr. Rick And Liz Haney
Dr. Rick And Liz Haney

Developing the Haney Soil Test

His first step was to investigate soil health tests of the past. He was shocked to learn that only 40% of the nitrogen applied ended up in the plant. When testing extractable carbon, he found that the tests didn’t monitor the soil respiration, the actual activity of the soil microbes.

It became starkly clear to Rick that as a scientific community, ‘we’ve overthought the whole process”. When using harsh extractants like hydrochloric or sulfuric acid in the labs, soil doesn’t behave as it does in the field, which can result in ineffectual or skewed data. Similar to traditional farming practices, human technology was being overemphasized, whereas natural processes needed to come to the foreground.

“We try to bring a little bit of uncommon sense to this work,” says Rick. Thus, the Haney test was developed.

This test evaluates soil health more comprehensively than traditional methods, emphasizing three critical aspects: water-extractable carbon and nitrogen, the 24-hour CO2 burst test, and the H3A extraction method for minerals.


By mimicking rainfall, Rick was able to organically measure water-soluble organic carbon and nitrogen, determining these chemicals’ levels in the soil. This way, the added phosphorus and nitrogen necessary to grow control plot yields could be measured. “What we look for in pretty much any sample is, at the very least, a 1:1 ratio of organic to inorganic nitrogen,” explains Rick. By discerning organic nitrogen levels, not measured in standard soil tests before, producers have the major added economic benefit of avoiding overfertilization.


Microbes breathe, just like humans, taking in oxygen (O2) and giving off carbon dioxide (CO2). Rick realized that by quantifying microbial respiration, you can measure the relative health of their environment. As Liz expresses, soils move from dry to wet conditions throughout a day. In dry conditions, some of these microbes may die or shut down. When wet conditions return, microbes will reengage in activity and experience a big boost in respiration. “So by measuring respiration, you are basically measuring the [microbial] biomass in the soil,” says Liz.


The name for the H3A extraction process derived from the names of the four who developed the method: Rick and Liz Haney, Liz’s professor Dr. Hossner, and a colleague Jeff Arnold. To develop this method, Rick started by taking the pH of various samples using common soil extractants.


“What shocked me is that all the pHs were driven either very high or very low. So you run over the buffering capacity of the soil when using traditional extractants,” explained Rick. “In other words, its inherent qualities are out the window.”


Thus, the H3A method uses a mix of mild organic acids as an extractant to avoid stripping soil of its natural qualities. This innovative approach extracts minerals like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and minor elements, simulating the natural soil processes more accurately than traditional methods.


The Impact of More Effective Soil Testing

This new means of testing gives farmers and land managers hope for their soil and courage to make change. Gleaning more accurate insight on their soil quality enables farmers to confidently make adaptive, regenerative choices with their land.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I wasn’t aware of this before, thank you so much for this educational opportunity, I now have hope that I can go home and actually implement the changes I’vewanted to,’” said Liz. “It just spreads and grows, and then they help another person. I think that’s what so great about soil health community in general.”

The Haney’s ultimate goal is to try to move the needle, one farmer at a time, toward a healthier world.

“Nutrient density and increasing the health of our plants and people is the ultimate goal once you improve the soil,” Liz expressed. “The quality of the food we’re eating is important, especially since people are suffering from chronic diseases that we didn't see 50, 60 years ago.”


After retiring from the ARS, Rick continues his work as a technical director for a commercial soil test lab. After leaving a job in the corporate world, Liz now is co-owner of a company called RegenAg that educates and consults with farmers and nonprofits on their regenerative journey.

Says Rick, “The biggest takeaway that I've had in the last 15 years is seeing farmers that had no hope, have hope.”

Please note a disclaimer on this episode: while the Haney test is a highly useful soil assessment, the NRCS still does not endorse one soil test over another. Producers and land managers should still consult with their local NRCS office to ensure that whatever assessment they employ meets conservation practice and program standards.

To learn more about what Liz and Rick are up to, visit them at:


Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:

1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

3.Follow Growing Resilience on social media:


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