SoilOptix® Blog

Navigating How Regular Soil Testing Can Increase Fertility in Agricultural Fields 

Soil testing is essential in determining proper fertilizer applications to balance the nutrient availability in the soil and the crop’s nutrient requirements to achieve production goals. A routine sampling and analysis program can be utilized for a precise fertilization program that optimizes plant health and minimizes environmental effects. Current pH levels of soil, nutrient fertility levels, and the amount of fertilizer the crop needs can be determined by soil testing in the USA.

Why Do I Need a Soil Test?

It’s important to refrain from judging a book by its cover. There is so much more to see in soil than meets the eye! There are some clues: moss growing means your soil is too acidic for optimal vegetable growth. Abundant chickweed means you have excess nitrogen. But generally, the only way to know what nutrients you’re working with is to test the soil. A soil test will share your macro-nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium, often simply NPK) as well as micro-nutrients (Calcium, Boron and countless others) and offer you suggestions on what to add (how to ‘amend’) your soil so you’ll grow the healthiest crops possible.

Soil testing can indicate where the soil needs treatment or improvement. However, a soil test is not a substitute for proper cultural practices and good management. Soil testing before planting lets you know the nutrient availability in the soil. By identifying nutrient deficiencies or excesses in the soil, farmers can tailor their fertilizer application to meet the specific needs of the crops. This enhances crop health and yield and prevents over-fertilization, reducing environmental impact and minimizing costs for the farmer.

Most soil testing kits will have a form to fill out asking about your plans for the soil you have tested. Some plants will need more acidity in the soil than others. The laboratory’s recommendations will be specific to the intended purposes of the tested ground.

 soil testing USA

Source: Freepik

When to Get a Soil Test?

Progressive farmers test their soil every year. It’s recommended that you should test your soil every three years at minimum. At the very least, if you do test more than once ever, BRAVO! Here’s the key: Be sure to test at the same time each year so the results are as relative and relevant as possible. It’s most common among our customers to re-analyze in the fall, or post-harvest, because:

  • It’s typically easier to manage then, not competing with the spring/summer bustle of planting & succession sowing.
  • It provides a benchmark understanding of how much nutrients your crop depleted from the soil after the growing season. After receiving results, farmers have months to plan for the spring season ahead.

Fewer investments of time and money will better serve you in the short term or long term! Your results will include a detailed analysis to surround you with abundance in the coming seasons.

How to Take Soil Samples?

For proper soil sampling, it’s important to choose the right methodology that’s going to give you the best representation of your soil.

  • If you have areas with different crops, soil, lime type, or fertilizer histories, be sure to take an extra sample from each location and keep the samples separated.
  • Be sure to collect samples that capture the fields variability by selecting locations throughout the entire field.
  • Do not sample areas too small to be fertilized or limed separately.

Use a proper sampling too like a sampling probe, and if necessary, a shovel or trowel. Obtain a sample at a depth and width representative of a soil probe, a core of soil around 6 inches deep from at least fifteen spots in each field or area to be tested. Your sampling depth may vary depending on crop and production systems, but be consistent with each field/growing space.

Mix the cores from one field or area with uniformity as the goal so they are well combined. Put approximately a pint of the mixed soil in a sample bag, record field sampling and samples, and air dry before analysis. You may freeze samples before analysis if nitrogen forms will be analyzed to prevent ammonia loss.

Soil Testing Enhances Efficiency:

Soil testing involves a comprehensive analysis of soil samples to assess various parameters such as nutrient content, pH levels, organic matter, and texture. This information provides farmers with valuable insights into the soil’s fertility. It aids in making informed decisions about crop selection, fertilization, and overall farm management. Understanding the soil composition and health is fundamental to optimizing crop yield, promoting environmental sustainability, and ensuring long-term agricultural productivity.

How to Interpret Soil Test Results?

Once the soil test results are received, farmers must carefully review and interpret the crucial data to understand what the test results mean for their fields. The results of soil testing will typically include the information on the levels of diverse nutrients in the soil, along with the pH and potential problems like compaction or poor drainage in soil in a particular area. This is where you should lean on the advice and expertise of an agronomist or consultant to ensure that the right decisions are being made based on the results.

Agriculturalists can pay attention to the blocked nutrient cycling pathways in soil and the disease risks impacting plant growth. For example, a blocked nutrient pathway may restrict plant growth, and an excess of the same nutrient could potentially be toxic to plants.

If you are still seeing gaps in information or feel that soil sampling alone is not capturing enough variability across your feel, consider high resolution soil mapping. By utilizing sensor technology, soil mapping can provide a much deeper understanding of your field’s variability and how to balance nutrients for a more even crop production. Contact the team at SoilOptix® to learn how to start working with high resolution soil mapping today.