If you’re a farmer with the goals of maximizing your crop production while protecting the environment from runoff, then analyze your soil. This simple test will protect your fields and adjacent waterways and save money. Before you drop a single seed this year, have a soil analysis done. You’ll conserve energy with a plan for fertilizing your fields, particularly if you’re a grower who mixes their own media.
Why Is Soil Testing Important?
There are several reasons why you want to test your field’s soil. Scientists conduct these tests for engineering, geochemical, and ecological investigations in addition to agricultural studies. This set of chemical processes determines the available nutrients in the ground and the various properties that are essential for prime soil health. Here are three top reasons to test your soil:
One of the most commonly used tests in today’s agricultural industry is to determine the available combination of nutrients, composition, and the soil’s pH level. When armed with a recent soil analysis, farmers can accurately calculate the amount and type of fertilizer needed for maximum production.
A soil test will ascertain a field’s fertility, potential toxicities, and expected growth potential of the land as modeled by the Law of the Maximum. According to this universal law, it only takes one deficient nutrient to reduce a crop’s potential yield significantly.
Changes Over Time
A soil’s chemistry changes over time as natural and chemical processes break down its compounds. This theory is especially true for transplanted land that finds itself in a foreign ecosystem, with new flora and climate conditions. An accurate soil analysis will give you the tools to significantly improve the ground, particularly when analyzed within 24 hours after its extraction.
Soil is often contaminated by a variety of elements such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, mercury, zinc, and lead. Lead is particularly dangerous, and you can take several steps in your garden to reduce the risk of this unwanted mineral in your food. Place gardens far from heavily traveled roads and consider liming the ground as recommended by a soil test. A pH level of 6.5 minimizes lead availability.
What Are the Goals of Soil Analysis?
The overall goals of soil analysis are varied, from determining the level of available plant nutrients to predicting an increase in yields and profitability. Farmers can also use this test to calculate the necessary amount of fertilizer needed for each individual crop.
Laboratory Soil Tests
One option for land analysis is to hire a commercial lab. Choose a local facility when possible, as they are likely most familiar with the local soil’s chemistry. The advantage of this knowledge is the technicians know exactly which tests to perform that will reveal the most valuable information.
A laboratory soil analysis checks for all 13 mineral plant nutrients in three categories:
- Major nutrients including potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus.
- Secondary nutrients including magnesium, sulfur, and calcium.
- Minor nutrients that include manganese, zinc, boron, copper, molybdenum, chlorine, and iron.
In addition, your lab results will consist of a professional’s interpretation of the findings, along with expert recommendations. Your lab report will outline any anomalies, exceptions, and shortcomings in the soil samples.
Soil Sample Analysis
The technicians at Colorado State University recommend that farmers collect between 10 and 20 test samples for every 40 acres of land. By testing this wide assortment of specimens, you’ll have a good understanding of precisely what your soil needs in order to perform its best.
When you know your land’s nutrient content by the process of chemical analysis, it’s easy to determine the precise amount of additives needed to achieve the highest quality yields. Plants can tolerate soil with up to 80 percent nitrogen, 40 percent phosphorus, 60 percent potassium, and 40 percent magnesium.
When Should Soil Be Tested
Take your first soil samples annually in the fall, after you harvest and before adding any fertilizer. It’s best to collect your test subjects when the soil is at its optimum moisture level. In the case of permanent crops such as orchards and vineyards, conduct a soil sample analysis every four or five years.
How to Collect Soil Samples
Take your soil testing samples either by probe or with an old-fashioned shovel. If you decide to use a shovel, dig a pit, and cut the edges vertically along the wall, being careful not to let any dirt fall into the hole. Crop and remove the exposed dirt to the left and right of the soil you intend to collect for your samples.
If you plan to use a probe, take your sample at a depth of normal tillage. For field crops, that’s up to 30 cm or for permanent crops, take your sample between 30 to 60 cm. Collect enough dirt to complete a series of tests, with one kilogram of each soil sample being plenty to analyze. Then, separate each bit of dirt in a plastic bag and label it with the following information:
- The farmer or land owner’s name.
- Designation of the plot.
- Depth of sampling.
- Any previous fertilization.
- Type of crop you plan to sow.
- Date of sample.
DIY Soil Test Kit
Do-it-yourself soil test kits are helpful. However, they usually only test for the three major nutrients as well as acidity. These electric meters are available at most gardening stores and measure pH, water content, and basic health of the soil.
It’s a well-known fact that laboratory tests are more accurate than the do-it-yourself kind. To make things easier, some labs offer a prepaid mail-in kit for field management and water testing. This process helps facilitate the packaging and delivery of samples for more extensive testing than the over-the-counter options, such as precise flow injection technology or near-infrared scanning.
Soil sample analysis is an essential part of the pre-growing season. The results are an indispensable tool for managing crop nutrition, and to wield this tool effectively, you must know how and when to take testing samples. Equipped with this helpful article, you’re well on your way to a healthy harvest this season.