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N deficient wheat, Havre, 1996. Image by R. Engel

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

  • AgAlert: with high wheat protein discounts, consider boosting grain protein with mid- to late-season N. Read this AgAlert for tools to help make the decision (pdf). This is also available as a press release (pdf)
  • Upcoming presentations by Clain:
    none at the moment
  • The Schutter Diagnostic lab is seeing many plants with nutrient deficiencies. The possible explanations and remedial actions are explained in an AgAlert (pdf).
  • 3 new press releases: 1) information on pulse crop inoculation and starter N (pdf), 2) considerations for fertilization in a down market (pdf), and 3) the processes that lead to nitrogen volatilization and management practices to minimize the loss (pdf).
  • Ammonia loss to the air from nitrogen fertilizer: the process and how to mitigate, is presented in a new Power Point created for the web (pdf).
  • The College of Agriculture 2016 research report is available online (click here for full report), including a summary of Montana producers' response to our cover crop survey (pdf).
  • Information on soil acidification concerns, causes, and testing is presented in a new Soil Scoop (pdf). Another Soil Scoop discusses management options to prevent and mitigate the negative impacts of soil acidification on crop production (pdf).
  • 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. 

Current Research

Cover Crop Cocktails (project website)

Nitrate Leaching (project website)

Volatilization Loss from N Fertilizers (more information)