Program Description


Collecting sample from Spoon Creek, near the KSU Olathe Horticultural Research Center.


The basics of soil and water testing can be explained in a classroom setting.  Then independent "Citizen Science" teams can sample water on their own farms and in their communities.


The goals of on-farm soil and water testing are to:

1.       Help you to know more about your farm, and to assist you with management decisions.

2.       Identify potential "hot spots" on your farm, that may be high in nutrients, or areas that may be contributing sediment, fecal coliform (bacteria), or pesticides to your drinking water, livestock water sources, or down-stream neighbors.

3.      Assist you in meeting your farm stewardship goals.

 Nearly everyone would like to be known as being a good farm steward.  Whether you are managing a farm that has been in your family for several generations, or have recently purchased a farm, you probably would like to leave the farm in as good a shape, or even better than when you started.  Whole farm planning can help you meet many of your farming goals, including stewardship, increased production, and profitability.  Many tools are available to help you with whole farm planning,  including the "River Friendly Farm" environmental assessment tool, especially designed with natural resource stewardship in mind.  As a complement to this planning tool, soil and water testing can help one know more about their own farm. 

Commercial laboratories are available to conduct a wide variety of soil and water tests.  However, quick tests, or field test kits are also available for many of these tests.  The advantages of using a quick test, or field test, for on-farm testing include; 1) immediate results (except for the incubation time required for coliform and E. coli tests), 2) confidentiality (you are the only one that sees the results), and 3) generally test kits are less costly than commercial, professional lab tests.  Because the tests are low-cost, many samples may be run, and sampling may be repeated several times. 


This website presents a quick overview of some of the quick test or field test methodologies.  Information is also provided to tell you where to obtain the test kits and how to interpret the results.  More details on how to run tests can be found in the individual sections within this website, or in the forthcoming series of fact sheets: "Citizen Science," available from K-State Research and Extension.  Because of the variability in the quality of the test kits, a research project was conducted by K-State Research and Extension to compare test kits to lab results.  Only field test kits that compared favorably, or are considered to be fairly accurate are mentioned in this publication.   

How testing can be part of your River Friendly Farm Action Plan 

The soil and water monitoring test kit is designed as a companion and to supplement your River Friendly Farm (RFF) environmental farm plan.  This notebook is available through K-State Research and Extension, from the Kansas Rural Center, or at our website;  After you have completed the plan and filled out your score-card, you will develop an action plan with areas for improvement.   

One interesting project is to check your stream at several locations, including above your farm, and below your farm, to determine the effect your farming practices have on that stream.  You may also have questions about livestock watering sites , including farm ponds, springs, or wells.  These can also be checked.  Especially if you are planning changes or improvements on your farm, plan to check each site before the improvement is implemented, soon after, and then 6 months and a year later.  Your household water may also be of interest, so use these test kits to check your family drinking water source, especially if you are using a farm well.  Problem results can be double checked using a commercial lab.  

The soil tests can be conducted in conjunction with the water tests, to help explain results, or independently, depending on your questions.  For example, if you consistently find high phosphorus levels in a section of your stream, check nearby fields for high phosphorus levels.  If your water samples do not indicate problems, simply use the soil test kit to monitor fields where you want to check for residual levels of nitrogen due to manure application or legume cover cropping, or to see if some of your fields are deficient in one or more nutrients.  Fields do not need frequent monitoring.  Running tests annually or every two years is enough to monitor changes over time.