Timing is Everything!

Fall weather made an impact on the soil samples coming to the lab. Extremely wet conditions delayed harvest, and then the ground froze keeping samplers out of the fields. Mother Nature continued to wreak havoc by adding snow and essentially halting sampling in many areas. Despite the weather challenges, samplers did their best and volume in my Midwest territory stayed relatively strong.

In recent weeks, I have traveled east to Indiana and Illinois, west to Omaha, Nebraska, and north to Manitoba, Canada (Winnipeg and Brandon). I have talked with growers, consultants, and ag retailers. All are sharing the same concerns that the farm economy is weak. Growers will be cutting back with the hope of breaking even. On a more positive note, in these regions, most yields were very good to better than expected. The growers know they will put a crop in and the variables are the level of inputs to support that crop. All agree that soil testing is a critical step in determining the proper level of fertilizers and if the amount can be reduced. With fertilizer being such a large input cost, over applying is a waste of valuable resources. Without the soil test, they are just guessing. It is always better to let soil tests guide fertility decisions rather than guessing with minimal data. One of our clients in northern Indiana, says soil test levels will allow you to “nudge it within your budget.” He makes a great point.

Frozen Ground

With the ground frozen throughout much of my territory, I don’t recommend soil sampling at this time. Ideally, waiting until the soil has thawed will provide you to get the best sample possible. Historically, more people sample in the fall. However, many reputable studies show that soil testing in the spring will yield similar results to fall sampling. This makes sense when you look at soil conditions in the fall compared to spring. The crop is not taking up any nutrients, and soil temps are at or near 50 degrees, so there are very little microbial activity and mineralization. The same can be said about spring sampling, the soil temp is in the 50-degree range, so there has been very little microbial activity or mineralization, and there is no crop, or it hasn’t started growing yet. Soil results are almost identical. Plus, you are not as much at the mercy of Mother Nature

Spring Sampling

Spring sampling allows growers to review the information with their agronomist throughout the spring and summer, and then apply the fertilizer right after the combine leaves the field. With waiting to sample after harvest, time is extended by sampling the field, sending it to the lab, having prescriptions made and then finally applying the fertilizer. In the case of last fall’s weather, those days made a big difference. Taking a moment to think about the management of the spring sampling makes a lot of sense to farmers and agronomists alike.

I will have a Midwest Laboratories booth in Des Moines January 29-31 for the Iowa Power Farming Show, and on February 12-13, I will be at the Agribusiness Association of Iowa Showcase and Conference. Stop by our booth, and we can discuss soil testing for you and your farmers.

For a comprehensive list of our soil tests visit: http://midwestlabs.com/our-industries/agriculture/soil-testing/