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Soil Nitrogen Test Measures Microbial Nitrogen

Contrary to the prevailing view, cereal crops derive the majority of their nitrogen from the soil, not fertilizer. Soils differ considerably in microbial activities that determine nitrogen-supplying power, and these differences must be taken into account if nitrogen fertilizers are to be used efficiently.

The Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT) was developed for this purpose, and involves estimation of gaseous ammonia liberated by heating the soil with strong alkali in a Mason jar. Several studies have provided evidence that the ISNT is predictive of yield response by corn to nitrogen fertilization, but there have also been negative evaluations in which concern has been raised that test values represent a constant proportion of total soil nitrogen rather than a microbial fraction that would be potentially available.
 
 

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