Cut Fertilizer Costs With Soil Testing


As crops continue to come off, for most farmers, the next step is fertilizer and tillage. Before you get the tillage tools out, make sure you have some data to make fertility recommendations from or make sure your current soil data is up to date. Soil sampling is a great way to add dollars to your bottom line. With a relatively low investment up front, it is a great way to insure you are not under investing or over investing in fertilizer. Here are some great points made by Ag PHD’s Brian Hefty regarding soil sampling. If you have questions regarding soil sampling or fertility management, give Justin Rivers a call.

Last fall on our farm, we identified some areas with phosphorus levels high enough that had we applied more P (like we originally planned), it likely would have HURT YIELD, not helped it.  Having an excess of almost any nutrient can be as detrimental as having a low level of that nutrient.  For example, excess phosphorus can prevent zinc from getting into the plant, so even if you shouldn’t have a zinc deficiency, you do because of the phosphorus excess.

I understand you are trying to cut costs going into 2017.  I also realize that an investment in soil testing isn’t technically a crop input, and you may not currently be a believer in soil testing, but here are my top 5 reasons why I recommend that every farmer use soil testing this fall.

  1. If you don’t know how many nutrients your soil has, how can you properly fertilize?  In some cases, you may need lots of fertilizer, but in other cases you may not.  Why spend $100 on fertilizer when $50 might be the right amount?
  2. N, P, and K may NOT be your yield-limiting factor.  Could it be sulfur?  Maybe it’s zinc or boron, iron or copper or even manganese.  You don’t know unless you test.  Just think if your issue was manganese.  You could possibly invest $10 more in manganese and get a big yield bump.  I know that N, P, and K are always top of mind, but are they top of mind because they are actually what your soil needs or are they top of mind because that’s what the fertilizer dealer has to sell?
  3. Soil pH is actually the most important thing I want to see on the soil test.  If your soil pH isn’t right, nutrients won’t be as available to your crop.  Your soil life (beneficial bacteria & fungi, earthworms, etc.) won’t be as abundant.  Herbicide injury or carryover may be more likely.  Plus, there could be many other negative consequences, too.  Crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat typically do best when the pH is between 6.3 to 6.8.  If your pH is low, add lime immediately.  If your pH is high, you likely need to improve drainage or build more topsoil.  If you want to quickly lower your pH, use elemental sulfur.
  4. I want to know your CEC (cation exchange capacity).  The higher the CEC, the heavier your soil is.  I know you can simply say, “I have heavy soil”, but “heavy” is a relative term.  If you know your CEC you have a better understanding of how much nitrogen you can apply, how much lime it will take to change pH, and how close together tile lines need to be, among other things.  I know you may not currently think about CEC, but whenever I’m making recommendations for a field, I ask the farmer what the CEC level is.
  5. Is your soil fertility in balance?  For this, we look at the base saturation test and the parts per million numbers for many nutrients.  Balance is incredibly important in soil if you want better nutrient availability and higher yields.

Article courtesy of Ag PhD’s Brian Hefty




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