Soil Sampling - Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited Crop Nutrients | P & H

Soil test for higher yields

It’s simple: Growers with higher yields soil test more often

One of your most valuable assets is the soil in which your crops grow. Knowing what nutrients are available is key to growing higher-yielding crop. And with higher fertilizer prices hitting the expense side of the ledger extra hard this season, having accurate and current soil test is also key to profitability.

A survey of Canadian growers in 2019 in Fertilizer Canada found that 50.6% of growers producing higher yielding crops, soil test for nitrogen every year. That’s compared to 24.4 % of growers producing lower yields.

50.6% of growers producing higher yielding crops soil test for nitrogen every year

Peter Drucker, the famous business management consultant said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Drucker might have been thinking more profit and loss statements than soil test reports, but the wisdom proves true in the field just as much as the boardroom. One of the best ways to beef up your bottom line is to do regular soil tests.

Soil test to reduce spring expenses, especially after a drought

Drought conditions reduce yields. That means that a larger amount of residual nutrients may be left in the soil than normal.

It’s especially important to soil test after “abnormal” years. A P&H crop advisor can arrange for soil tests and then help develop a fertility program for the next season based on your cropping plans and yield goals. A soil test from three years ago won’t give you the confidence necessary to reduce fertilizer applications in the spring after a drought year.

For fall soil sampling, it is recommended to take samples after temperatures have dropped, and soil temperature is below 5 degrees C.

Soil test often to maximize profitability

Almost every farm has had a soil test done. But basing your decisions off out-dated soil test numbers is like trying to drive a truck down the highway by staring into the rear-view mirror. And with fertilizer prices continuing to climb, now would be a really good time to get a read on the current state of your soils.

A soil test isn’t just about gauging nitrogen levels. A soil test can provide other beneficial information such as soil acidity, sodium and soluble salts, organic matter, cation exchange capacity, and Ph.

Use a crop advisor to interpret the results

Soil, made up of inorganic particles and organic matter, is a complicated system that can vary considerably in the way it behaves, even within a few meters of the same field.

A crop advisor can turn a lab-generated report into customized recommendations. That can be especially important in pinpointing the greatest limiting factor. Addressing that deficiency is often your biggest opportunity.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Growers regularly producing higher yields are also more likely to use a crop advisor to help interpret the results and translate data into a nutrient management plan.

Talk to your local P&H retailer to get a soil sample done on your farm:

Find the gold within five broad categories

The most valuable information from a soil test will likely come by measuring these five broad groups:

  • Organic Matter – Carbon-based compounds in the soil which often serve as a reserve for nutrients
  • Soil pH – The acidity or alkalinity of the soil, which can affect nutrient availability
  • Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) – An inherent soil characteristic that is difficult to alter significantly and influences the soil’s ability to hold onto essential nutrients
  • Nitrate-N – The water-soluble form of nitrogen that is readily available for plant uptake
  • Extractable macro and micronutrients – The essential nutrients that are available to the plant and needed by the crop to produce maximum economic yield

As growers and their nutrient advisors receive more information about these five areas, they will be able to make more informed fertility decisions.

Focus on the 4R principles to maximize profitability

In the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, the goal is to apply the right source, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place.

Right Source

  • Choose the correct source of nutrient for your soil
  • Ensure a balanced supply of essential plant nutrients through granular or liquid fertilizers or manure

Right Rate

  • Perform annual soil testing to measure the availability of nutrients from all sources such as manure, commercial fertilizers and atmospheric nitrogen fixed by legumes
  • Account for nutrients already in the soil and calibrate application equipment to deliver target rates to fill in the gaps

Right Time

  • Avoid fertilizer or manure application on snow or frozen soils
  • Carry out nutrient management planning on an annual basis

Right Place

  • Respect recommended setback distances for nutrient application near waterways
  • Place nutrients below the soil surface where they can be taken up by growing roots when needed

Fall fertilizer application frees up time in the spring

Consider applying fertilizers in the fall to give you more time to complete your application and check one thing off the list before spring. Also, soil conditions may be less wet in the fall, reducing your risk of compaction during application.

Tips for fall fertilizer applications:

  • Start with a soil test to learn more about your soil
  • Get a crop advisor to help create a custom field approach
  • Delay fall applications until the soil temperature at 4 inches has fallen below 10 °C to help keep nitrogen in the ammonium form longer to minimize loss
  • Prevent volatilization by using a nitrogen stabilizer or make sure nitrogen is incorporated properly with at least ½ inch of rain or by manually incorporating at least 2 inches deep into the soil
  • Use urea treated with a nitrogen stabilizer or Super U when shallow-banding or broadcasting fertilizer
  • Don’t do a fall application in sandy soils, high rainfall areas where soils do not stay frozen through the winter, or on very wet or wet/frozen soil

Protect your investment with nitrogen stabilizers

There are three forms of nitrogen loss:

  1. Volatilization is above-ground loss of nitrogen and occurs when the soil’s urease enzymes break the urea molecules into ammonia gas. It can occur when fertilizer is broadcasted or shallow-banded during warm temperatures and when N is applied to moist soil followed by dry conditions. Some soils that are higher in Ph are more prone to loss.
  2. Denitrification occurs below ground when nitrate nitrogen is converted back to its gaseous forms. It happens most often in warm soils that are poorly drained or are waterlogged.
  3. Leaching is when nitrogen is lost below ground as downward movement of water carries negatively charged nitrate below the root zone. It is most common in sandy soils after heavy rain events.

A nitrogen stabilizer can increase your return on investment by protecting your nitrogen application from all three forms of nitrogen loss.

Use a nitrogen stabilizer in the fall so that your nitrogen is available to feed your crops once they are seeded the following spring. A nitrogen stabilizer also reduces the environmental impact of nitrogen loss due to leaching and denitrification.

Contact your local P&H retail location. They’ll help you make decisions that push your cropping plans in the right direction.