Soil Sampling: Because Measurements are Better than Guesses

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Fertilizer can be one of your largest per-acre expenses. Too many operations make fertilizer decisions based on four-year-old data or crop removal assumptions. Making assumptions is fine when it’s the only thing you can do. But in fertilizer decisions, there is an easy solution to having accurate, timely information, and that is pulling soil samples on an annual basis.

Moving Beyond Assumptions

There is a universal assumption that one bushel of corn removes 0.38 lb/acre of P2O5 and 0.27 lb/acre of K20. This assumption is helpful, but it is still just that—an assumption. You can make guesses based on removal, but unless you test your soil using good soil sampling practices and a qualified lab, you do not know what is available to your corn plant on the day it needs food and what additional nutrients it needs to maintain optimal plant health.

Challenge your assumptions about crop removal:

  • How many nutrients are you pulling into the stalk?
  • Do you know whether the nutrients are returning to the soil for the next year’s corn or beans?
  • Will the nutrients take longer than a year to break down?
  • Do you have enough P and K, or are you failing to set kernels early in the season?
  • Are you setting and pollinating kernels, but failing to fill them late in the season?

Defining “Good” Soil Sampling

A good soil sampling practice means creating management zones based on soil mapping and pulling twelve or more soil cores per zone, well mixed, to represent that zone. A good soil sampler does not travel in a straight line and always makes sure to know how fertilizer was applied so they can get a good representation of everything in the zone. Your tillage practices should be taken into account. Cores should consistently be pulled to the correct depth.

Soil Sampling Every Four Years Shouldn’t be the Standard

Samples should be taken so that you understand your soil annually. Every four years is the “standard,” but you must ask yourself, could you be losing money by not having real information? What factory makes a decision on data from four cycles ago? Factories test their material every production cycle because there are unpredictable changes every time. You could save money this year if you knew you’re not nutrient-limited for 2017’s crop. And if you might be for 2018, measure again in 2018, and apply the correct amount at that point.

We can estimate what is happening to nutrients in your field, but we can’t estimate very well. When good, reliable measurements can be made, you should always trust what your soil is telling you more than what a book is telling you. Annual soil sampling improves your understanding of your soil and helps you raise more bushels while spending less money on unnecessary nutrients.

You can further enhance your understanding of your soil’s needs by using soil sampling as part of a comprehensive geographic information system (GIS) like FieldIQ. This type of service compiles all of your farm data from sources like soil sampling, mapping, and purchases into a single system to provide you with intelligent prescriptions for seed and nutrient purchases.

Start Improving Plant Health

Soil and plant health is too important to leave up to chance. By implementing good soil sampling practices on an annual basis, reliable and accurate measurements are made, thus improving your understanding of your soil and ultimately saving you money.

With the help and expertise of SoilRight’s soil management services, you can transform your business, enhance yields, and increase profits. Learn how to today:

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Written By

Randy Darr

Randy Darr

Agronomist | gooddirt@soilright.com