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Risk management through soil sampling

For many farmers this year holds more uncertainty than any in recent history. Extreme volatility in the markets, outrageous fuel and fertilizer prices, shortages of inputs, sky-high rent, and impending drought from speakers like Elwynn Taylor, why even put seed in the ground? While it is easy to focus on the negatives, don’t forget to stay positive, have a detailed plan in place, and stick to it for success.

One major components of any yearly plan is your fertility management plan. During droughty periods, or even when plenty of water is available, full yield potential is not realized if soil fertility is poor. With high input prices and talk of drought it can be tempting to cut corners, and pull back on fertilizer. The best way to lower risk is working to make sure your soil nutrients are in balanced in the proper amount and placement is timed for optimum uptake.

Having your soil nutrients in the optimum amounts (not sufficient) will;

Increase water infiltration

Stimulate root growth deeper and fuller to access water and nutrients

Increase grain filling and yield

The starting point for any proper fertility management program is a Full Soil Analysis. Grid sampling is a great way to apply lime, P, K, S, Zn, but if that is all your testing for you’re missing at least 11 other key components of yield. You might even find that one of the micros will boost your yield for less than additional units of N, P, and K. The cost of doing a full soil analysis on every grid could be the best money you spend this year, but I know that cost scares people. At a minimum pull a full analysis on a portion of grids (every 5 or 10 grids) so at least you have a baseline. Having a full analysis run is one of the best ways to make sure that your supplying your crop the right nutrients in the right amounts.

With N, P, and K ranging from $500-$800 per ton, can you afford to apply more than is needed for proper fertilization?

Here are three examples of things you can adjust in your fertility management that you can only figure out by doing a full analysis.(Courtesy of Midwest Labs)

If P1:P2 ratio is greater than 1:2, you may see; a greater response to starter as the ratio increases, increasing response to the use of sulfur and zinc, when the P2 is over 50 ppm, one can expect greater response to Zn.

CEC, Cation Exchange Capacity measures the soil’s ability to hold nutrients. A good rule of thumb is for each point of CEC your soil will hold 10 lbs of N. So if you have a CEC of 5 your soil should hold 50 lbs of Nitrogen at one shot, if you have a CEC of 25, your soil should hold 250 lbs of N at one time. This is just a general guideline, but if you don’t know your CEC how do you know if the N you applied will be available to your crop.

Soluble Salts, this is a must every time you sample. While extremely low amounts do not have a direct impact on plant health, the amount of water that infiltrates into you soil has a big direct impact. Soils with 0-.04 mmohs/cm are subject to dispersion and sealing. 

Reduce your risk and get your soil sampled!



The Blogronomist is maintained by Craig Dick, head blogronomist and VP of Sales and Marketing. Here you will find a wide array of blog articles from Craig and expert guests on topics related to soil and crop health, farming, and so much more. If it’s not here, ask us!   

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  • Article Reference:: Calcium Products, Inc.
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