Lowering Soil pH

Explanation of goal and options – Many soils have higher than ideal pH levels. There are ways to lower soil pH into the 6-7 range but the effectiveness of the methods will depend on several of factors:

  • Soil Texture
  • CEC
  • Calcium Carbonate Content
  • Sub soil
  • Material used to acidify. Elemental sulphur is generally considered themost cost effective wal to lower pH.

The presence of calcium carbonate (found on our complete soil test) in particular will make it a challenge to cost effectively lower pH.


  1. Calculate the lime required to neutralize 1% carbonate in the soil – 3 tons/acre of elemental sulphur are required for every percent of calcium carbonate. Example: if the carbonates on your report is 0.5% then you need 1.5 tons/acre.
  2. Calculate the amount of lime required to lower your pH into the desired range using the chart below and add this to your amount in step one.
Desired change in pHSand
(CEC 5)
Silt loam
(CEC 10)
(CEC 20)
  lb S/Acre 
8.5 to 6.53707301460
8.0 to 6.53406701340
7.5 to 6.53006001200
7.0 to 6.5180360720
Reference: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/agf-507

Other Considerations

  • Soil bacteria convert the sulfur to sulfuric acid lowering the soil pH. It is important to note that this is a biological process (slow) and not a chemical reaction (rapid). The bacteria are active, when the soil is moist and warm. The soil temperature needs to be above 55F. The bacteria are not active in the winter so fall applications of sulfur have little effect on the soil pH next spring.
  • In addition, the soil must not be saturated, or flooded (anaerobic) or the sulfur is converted to hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell) by anaerobic bacteria. Hydrogen sulfide kills plant roots.
  • It is not reccomended to apply more tha 400lb/acre per year.




Displacement & Estimated CEC

Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a measure of a soils ability to hold exchangeable cations.  The CEC is impacted by many factors like soil type & organic matter. Generally speaking sandy soils have a lower CEC and clay soils have a high CEC.

In the lab there are two ways we can measure CEC:

Estimated CEC – This involves adding up the extracted base cations (K, Mg, Ca, Na) from a traditional extractant  (Ammonium Acetate or Mehlich III) to derive a CEC number.

Displacement CEC – Involves washing the soil to remove existing cations and using an ‘index ion’ to determine the amount of exchange sites.

Are there differences between the two Measurements?

We analyzed a set of 667 samples by both methods to look at the differences at different pH values. Here is what we found:

Where the values from the two methods tend to diverge is at a pH of 7.3 or higher.  At pH less than 7.3 there were still some samples with differing results, but not to the same degree as the samples that were over 7.3 pH. Extracting solutions like Mehlich III and Ammonium Acetate can overestimate plant available calcium (and magnesium to a lesser extent) that contain calcium  and magnesium carbonate.


The data shows that the difference and the variance between the estimated and displacement CEC are quite large and become larger as you look at higher pH ranges.


What can we do with this information?

-Having a displacement CEC value in high pH soils  can help us better understand a soils ability to provide nutrients to the crop.

-Understand which soils may contain calcium and magnesium carbonates.

-Properly characterize soil Cation Exchange Capacity, even in high pH soils.


Honeyland Ag Services complete soil test provides both estimated and displacement CEC. Click here for more information on our soil test.



VRT Nitrogen Case Study

In 2017 we conducted a trial using Honeyland Ag Services Staygreen program, variable rate application technology and “I” drops on a highboy sprayer. The goal was to evaluate if there would be any benefit to this approach vs the grower’s normal flat rate.


  • We went to the field when the corn was approximately V9-10 and collected samples of both soil and whole plants.
  • Based on the analysis we observed that the nitrogen was much more plentiful in the low areas of the field and the crop demand (determined by whole plant analysis) was relatively even throughout the field.
  • We created a VRT prescription that varied based on the topography of the field, crop demand & soil nitrogen supply. separating the field into knolls, middle ground and valleys. The area that received VRT application was just over 5 acres.
  • The VRT nitrogen was applied in four (summarized as two) test strips and the rest of the field was applied at the grower’s flat rate. Comparing the VRT strips to the swaths directly beside them the results were as follows:
No VRT170Bu
No VRT186Bu
Farmers No VRT Rate30Gal
Honeyland VRT Rate22.6Gal
Yield Increase/Decrease5Bu
Fert Increase/Decrease-7.4Gal

By placing nitrogen where it was needed using a variable rate prescription we reduced nitrogen use by 7.4 gallons and increased the yield by 5 bushels. This represents a total gain of approximately $30/acre.

If you are interested in more information about the Staygreen program please visit: https://www.honeylandag.com/staygreen/