New program certifies soil testing labs

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With growing environmental concerns and falling commodity prices, member laboratories of the Illinois Soil Testing Association (ISTA) are playing a key role in helping farmers by assuring they apply the correct nutrients in quantities no greater than is absolutely necessary to be efficient producers. Farmers rely on accurate, reliable and consistent data from their soil tests to be efficient users of crop nutrients.

Modern soil testing is a sophisticated science with many variables that can affect the accuracy of the test.  Providing quality results is accomplished through member lab participation in the association’s Lab Accreditation Program (LAP), which utilizes soil analyses data developed through the Agricultural Lab Proficiency (ALP) Program, a national testing service.  Members of ISTA created LAP in 2012 to proactively demonstrate their dedication to providing accurate and reliable information to the industry.

Members submit their data to the ISTA-LAP program in three consecutive four-month cycles each year. Labs must meet certain qualification standards each cycle to remain certified, thus earning a so-called “Stamp of Approval” that signifies each participating laboratory is generating results that are within industry statistical norms of the test method.

Criteria For Accreditation

Assessment of laboratory performance is based on the laboratory analysis of five ALP soils each proficiency cycle by the proficiency assessor. Member labs are evaluated based on reported pH, P and K soil test values. Labs that are not near the statistical norm may lose their certification and are flagged as failing.     

Laboratories failing to meet accreditation requirements are offered a retest soil sample set for the soil test method in question, and with a successful retest, their accreditation is reinstated.  Laboratories that choose not to retest or provide retest results within 30 days are removed from the ISTA accreditation list. Laboratories failing on two retest sets are to be removed from the accreditation list for one year. An annual report is provided to each ISTA-LAP laboratory that summarizes the lab’s performance.

Fifteen soil testing laboratories from Illinois and surrounding states (those doing business with Illinois farmers) are currently accredited and listed on the ISTA Website at Farmers can log onto the site to find names of the accredited labs near them and to obtain additional information about the Illinois Soil Testing Association.

The Illinois Soil Testing Association was founded in 1980 by a group of laboratories committed to providing farmers with consistent and reliable testing results, and for the purpose of sharing information with each other. ISTA members meet two times each year for educational programs and staying abreast of industry developments. Current members include laboratories from Illinois and the neighboring states of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Membership is open to agricultural consultants and the association regularly works with university soils experts as advisors.

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