NCERA103: Specialized Soil Amendments and Products, Growth Stimulants and Soil Fertility Management Programs

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA103: Specialized Soil Amendments and Products, Growth Stimulants and Soil Fertility Management Programs

Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The use of fertilizer and soil amendments is important to maintaining crop and livestock production in the USA and the world. Crop nutrient supplements, whether ‘organic’ or manufactured, are necessary to supply plant nutrients to crops for direct human consumption or to feed livestock. Soil amendments, such as lime and gypsum, are necessary to maintain soil pH in a range that maximizes crop production (lime) or supply calcium for direct plant uptake by fruit/vegetable crops or help remediate soils with high sodium content (gypsum). The main sources of organic and manufactured fertilizers and some soil amendments have been well-researched and proven effective for over 80 years. However, there have always been fertilizers and amendments with unusual ingredients that come to market (Nafziger, 2021). In the past, the number of these products in the marketplace has been small enough that researchers have conducted independent research to evaluate the value of most of them to farmers/ranchers. However, recently there has been a flood of non-traditional fertilizers and amendments, including biological activators with advertised nutrient use efficiency properties that have overwhelmed the capacity of the region’s researchers to evaluate them properly. In addition, the trend in marketing these recent non-traditional fertilizers and amendments has been little to no background research into the field effectiveness of their use; relying mostly on theory that they might be effective and helpful to farmers. More and more, the burden of research falls on the end-user farmer/rancher themselves.

Some of the most heavily marketed non-traditional fertilizers and amendments are researched by some members of this committee, and the committee relationships between members allow the rest of the members to share in the evaluation of these products, rather than each having to research them (NCERA103 Committee, 2021).

Because of the abundance of new products in the marketplace and the inability to keep up with their research and evaluation, it is necessary to educate farmers/ranchers into prudent on-farm research of products of interest. It is also necessary to urge farmers/ranchers to avoid using new products on large acreages without first testing them on their farm or reviewing any research performed by independent evaluators.


  1. When possible, committee members will field-test and evaluate performance of non-traditional fertilizers and amendments.
  2. Maintain a website where farmers/ranchers/crop consultants/ag-industry professionals/others can access independent research reports and journal articles regarding non-conventional amendments and additions, or classes of products that are similar to the product of interest to the searcher.
  3. Produce educational material on the design and execution of on-farm trials for farmer/rancher evaluation of products of particular interest.
  4. Meet once a year to review activities and plan construction of deliverables for the upcoming year, discuss the need for and the writing of new or updated publications.

Procedures and Activities

Pertaining to Objective 1. Committee members will test and evaluate non-traditional products following the statistically valid replicated field research experimental designs. Members will attempt at coordinating similar tests across several states as possible. 

Pertaining to Objective 2. The group website has previously been housed on an Iowa State University website; however, the website will be moved and plans are ongoing to revamp the website under an independent commercial web server.

Pertaining to Objective 3. The committee will prepare a bulletin on how to design and implement on-farm research to evaluate products of interest to farmers/ranchers and publish it as soon as the webpage move is completed. Committee members will prepare and deliver programs specific to their states. Members will also identify the common topics of interest during annual meetings to prepare educational materials that can be used across the region.

Pertaining to Objective 4.  Committee will meet every year right after the North Central Industry-Extension Soil Fertility Conference.


Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Review annually and within-year of new product evaluations of committee members and discussion of their performance. Comments: Performance of products evaluated by members will be reviewed and reports with at least two site-years of data will be uploaded into the website to permit farmer/rancher/crop consultant/industry-professional access. The most recent tracking of hits to the website was 2016, which is another reason to move the website to one more flexible to our needs; however, at the time, there were over 1,000 hits to the search engine per year.
  • Information regarding non-traditional products/amendments will be shared with state/federal agencies, including USDA-NRCS, which has cost-share programs on N fertilizer amendments for example.
  • Access to independent (non-company sponsored) research on products results in better information for farmers/ranchers to use in determining products that might be of value to them. Comments: Example 1- Product claims to enable farmer to reduce phosphate fertilizer by 50%. Evaluation of products by several NCERA-103 committee members concludes the product has no effect on P fertilizer efficiency. The product cost is $10 per acre. Use of it in corn and reduction of P fertilizer recommendation by 50% results in 20 bushel corn yield reduction. Cost to farmer if they had used it with a $6 per bushel corn price would be $130 per acre. Gain if farmer knew that the product would not increase P use efficiency- 20 bushel per acre corn yield increase, less cost of ½ P fertilizer recommendation (20 bushels per acre corn yield increase @ $6 per bushel, less P fertilizer cost of $20 per acre) would be $100 per acre from use of original P fertilizer recommendation. Example 2- Product 1 claims to perform as a nitrification inhibitor. Cost is $10 per acre. Product 2 also claims to perform as a nitrification inhibitor with a cost of $15 per acre. Product 1 has been found to be ineffective as a nitrification inhibitor, and Product 2 has been found to be effective. The grower has soil with a leaching potential of 50 pounds N per acre if there is heavy rainfall. Crop is corn. Use of Product 1 would result in loss of $10 per acre in product cost, plus yield reduction from the loss of 50 pounds N per acre with a May thunderstorm of 4 inches over 3 hours. The yield reduction would be about 50 bushels per acre, or at $6 per acre a cost of $300 per acre + $10 product cost - total loss $310 per acre. If Product 2 were used, the loss of N would be less, perhaps 10 pounds of N per acre, with a crop loss of perhaps 10 bushels per acre. Total loss from storm would be 10 bushels X $6 per acre + product cost of $15 per acre. Total loss using Product 2 would be $75, or a $235 per acre advantage over use of Product 1. Over 1,000 acres of corn, the use of the effective product would result in $235,000 gain over the use of an ineffective product.
  • Publication of web/smartphone circulars and bulletins on non-traditional fertilizers and amendments. Comments: The recent publication was Franzen et al 2020.
  • The committee will publish a bulletin on how to design and implement on-farm research to evaluate products of interest to farmers/ranchers.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

The committee is composed of people with both Research and Extension responsibilities in their respective states. Their educational programs are built over a foundation of independent, statistically-valid replicated field research studies. New publications will be added to the website that contains at least two site-years of data from independent sources.

Committee members will promote the use of the committee-sponsored website through their Extension outreach programs within their respective states.

Updated publications and information will be made available by committee members through the committee website, and directly to their clientele. These include farmers/ranchers, crop consultants, Extension educators, NRCS staff, regulatory agencies, and industry professionals.

Information compiled on non-traditional fertilizers and amendments is routinely used in presentations by committee members and their Extension/Research colleagues in Extension workshops and conferences, supplemental websites, and these data are utilized in formulating regulatory decisions.


The chair and secretary of the committee will be elected from the committee membership for two-year terms. The secretary will replace the chair at the end of their 2-year term unless they decline chair-ship. Administrative guidance for the committee will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA representative.

Literature Cited

D.W. Franzen, C. Rosen, J. Sawyer, D. Ruiz-Diaz, K. Steinke, P. Scharf, M. Ruark, E. Nafziger, A. Margenot, E. Lentz, D. Kaiser, B. Maharjan, J. Camberato, E. Ritchie 2020 Effectiveness of Using Low Rates of Plant Nutrients. NDSU Circ. SF1978 

Nafziger, E. "Does This Product Work?." Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, April 6, 2021.

NCERA 103 Committee. Compendium of Research Reports on Use of Non-Traditional Materials for Crop Production. (accessed on Nov 30, 2021)



Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Log Out ?

Are you sure you want to log out?

Press No if you want to continue work. Press Yes to logout current user.

Report a Bug
Report a Bug

Describe your bug clearly, including the steps you used to create it.