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Managing Around High Fertilizer Prices – Taking Accurate Soil Samples to Get Accurate
It’s hard to talk about fertilizing and soil fertility without starting at soil testing.
For starters, it costs nothing but the time to get out there and do it. But, doing
it correctly is critical to getting accurate results. If all you’re going to do is
get 3-4 shovels of dirt and put it in a bag, you’d be better off spending that time
researching alternative fertilizers (see previous article).
The soil fertility in the field isn’t this one big, homogeneous unit where one spot
is exactly like another. Due to lots of variables such as topography, soil types,
how water moves, what the vegetation is like on top, where livestock tend to congregate,
and non-uniform fertilizer applications, it varies. Because of that variability, several
samples need to be taken to comprise the sample that goes to the lab. Twenty to twenty-five
(20-25) would be a good start. Zig zag all around the field, taking samples down to
a depth of 4-6” with a soil probe or shovel (soil probes can be requested at your
county Extension office). Put that in a bucket as you go.
Once you’ve completed a field, pick out the larger rocks and plant material, mix it
all up, and then take out enough to fill a soil box. The goal is: You want what is
going to the lab to be a good average representation of the whole field.
Also, because of that variability, we typically don’t want any one sample to represent
more than 20 acres. For fields that are larger than that, split that sampling however
is logical: higher ground/lower ground, rockier areas/less rocky areas, west side/east
side. Whatever makes the most sense to you.
The testing doesn’t cost you anything, but when it comes time to spending money on
today’s fertilizer prices, it can certainly help to know where to direct that cost.
In the next post or two, we’ll talk about prioritizing applications based on those
soil test results. Or, maybe no applications at all...
In the meantime, check out our soil testing resources to get started with gathering your soil sample.