Soil Fertility Extension Program

Wheat with and without adequate N

The Soil Fertility/Nutrient Management program at MSU focuses on the processes that affect nutrient cycling so that they can be managed more sustainably. Soil testing can detect low nutrient levels that lead to possible crop nutrient deficiencies. In addition, soil testing allows for timely adjustments in fertilizer applications, reducing input costs. Understanding the economics of fertilizing, yield goals, and crop quality, along with soil fertility management can assist the producer in meeting profit goals. Currently, the effects of cropping systems and tillage systems on nitrogen and phosphorus availability are being investigated. Research conducted at MSU, the Agricultural Research Centers, and throughout the region, are synthesized into fact sheets, modules, and presentations geared toward extension agents, crop advisers, farmers, ranchers, and/or homeowners. If you have any questions on the Soil Fertility Extension program or materials contained in this web site, contact Dr. Clain Jones.

SEARCH Clain's websites

  • Upcoming presentations by Clain: Micronutrient Principles, Montana Grain Growers Association, Dec. 1, Great Falls. 
  • MSU Extension's web-based decision tool to help calculate optimal N fertilizer rates for small grains has been revised and is ready for use at
    The calculator is available for winter wheat, spring wheat, and barley produced after fallow. Users enter soil nitrate level, organic matter, yield goal, and anticipated wheat price, N fertilizer price, and protein discount and premium. With that information, the calculator provides estimates for yield and protein response to applied N, and the suggested amount of N to apply for maximum net revenue. 
  • Nutrient Digest Newsletter - offered quarterly. Fall 2015 (pdf). This contains a summary of MSU research on cover crop termination timing, species and mixtures on yield, protein, economic return and soil quality. There is also an article on the potential of fall-planted cover crops as livestock feed and nutrient source in Idaho high-desert systems, and on the benefits of in-season N applications for irrigated spring wheat in California.  If you would like to be alerted when the next issue comes out, please write Earlier issues are available under "Newsletters & Reports".

Current Research

Cover Crop Cocktails (project website)

Nitrate Leaching (project website)

Volatilization Loss from N Fertilizers (more information)