News & Insights

Technology Comparison: Trace Genomics vs. Haney Test vs. PLFA

Trace Genomics provides actionable insights for soil management by analyzing soil biology with the most comprehensive sequencing technology available. Our TraceCOMPLETE™ product includes reports on the levels of plant pathogens and microorganisms (microbes) that impact nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) levels. This provides a more complete picture of your soil health and, alongside soil chemistry, better recommendations for fertility product placement.

The Haney Test (also known as the Soil Health Tool and the Haney Soil Health Test) is also a measurement of soil health that includes recommendations for fertilizer applications as well as cover crops. The Haney Test focuses on overall soil microbial activity rather than presence of individual species. 

PLFA stands for phospholipid fatty acidthis is a component of the cell membrane of microorganisms. Different microbes contain different PLFAs, so measuring these molecules in a soil sample can provide quantitative information about the types of microbes present. This analysis is unable to identify individual species of microbes, but can still provide some information about soil health as a measurement of soil biomass and diversity.

The table below describes the differences between Trace Genomics biological analysis, calculations from the Haney Test, and PLFA analysis. 

Trace Genomics vs. Haney Test vs. PLFA

Trace Genomics—metagenomicsHaney TestPLFA
Measures soil microbial biomass with DNACalculates microbial biomass with a measurement of activity (CO2 burst test)Measures soil biomass using phospholipid fatty acids (present in microbial cell membranes)
Able to identify microbial species (high resolution)Does not identify specific microbesIdentifies groups of microbes, but not enough resolution to identify species (low resolution)
Directly quantifies abundance of microbes capable of cycling N/PEstimates soil nutrients (N/P) that are available to microbesNo information on soil nutrients
Provides recommendations for type of fertility productProvides quantitative fertilizer recommendationsNo fertilizer product recommendations
Does not provide cover crop suggestionsProvides cover crop suggestionsNo cover crop suggestions
Includes pathogen dataNo information on pathogensNo information on pathogens
Results are not impacted by soil structureResults are impacted by soil structureResults are not impacted by soil structure
Robust over different soil types and environmentsResults are impacted by different soil types and environmentsRobust over different soil types and environments
Uses smart benchmarks to provide context, so results from any location can be interpretedTests need calibration for each stateResults can vary by measurement method, so need to stick with the same lab to compare results over time
Future changes in protocol can be retroactively applied to past data for a more direct comparison of soil health measurements over timeFuture changes in protocol cannot be applied to past samplesFuture changes in protocol cannot be applied to past samples

For all tests, the timing of sample collection is important.


Trace Genomics and the Haney Test both estimate soil health and provide fertility product recommendations. PLFA analysis provides quantitative information about microbial biomass and diversity. The driving difference is that Trace measures soil biology using DNA,  the Haney Test makes calculations using chemistry, and PLFA measures another (lower resolution) biomolecule.

About the author: Dr. Tuesday Simmons is the Science Writer at Trace Genomics. She earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley, studying the root microbiome of cereal crops.