The Results Are In: Lime Works

In the fall of 2022, I hired a custom applicator to haul and spread lime across 238 acres of my family’s farm in western North Dakota. The reason? To increase soil pH on five fields with very low soil pH. One field even had a soil pH of 4.7, so these were good candidate fields for a practical case study for liming on a real farm operation.

I wrote more about the soil sampling process and lime application in the AGVISE Winter 2022 newsletter ( Each field received approximately 2 ton/acre sugar beet lime (1.4 ton ENP/acre) from Sidney Sugar in Sidney, MT, and the lime was disced to 3 inches for incorporation. After one year, the soil pH had already increased by 0.36 pH-units in the 0-6 inch soil depth. The 2023 growing season was relatively wet in southwest North Dakota, and the additional soil water certainly helped the lime react and neutralize soil acidity quickly. The incorporation with a disc also helped distribute the lime more evenly and deeply, allowing the lime to react faster. One negative side effect of tillage was a flush of annual weeds, particularly green and yellow foxtail.This was the first tillage event on these fields in 12 years, so I expect the annual weed community to diminish as we return to no-till after the one-time tillage pass. 

Figure 1. Zone soil pH map of a field receiving 2 ton/acre sugar beet lime in fall 2022. Each zone increased roughly 0.36 pH-units from 2022 to 2023. (Maps created in ADMS 32, GK Technology, Inc.)

Lime also works without incorporation, just at a slower pace. In 2021, we established a no-till lime trial to investigate lime rates without incorporation. Lime was applied in May 2021, and the fall 2023 soil pH results are shown in Figure 2. The highest lime rate at 2.5 ton ENP/acre increased soil pH in the upper 0-3 inch soil depth by 0.71 pH-units over 2.5 years. So far, no effect on soil pH in the lower 3-6 inch soil depth has been observed. In most no-till systems, the most acidic part of the soil profile is located at the soil surface, and a lime application correcting soil pH in the upper 0-3 inch soil depth is still effective. This is where seedlings and roots are most vulnerable to soil acidity, so correcting soil pH at the soil surface is critical and can be accomplished with a surface application of lime in no-till systems.

Surface Soil pH (0-3 inch) in No-till Lime Trial, October 2023

Figure 2. Soil pH following surface application of lime after 2.5 years in a no-till cropping system in southwestern North Dakota.