Calcium Products - Andrew Hoiberg, Ph.D.

Calcium Products - Andrew Hoiberg, Ph.D.

Andrew Hoiberg, Ph.D.

Andrew Hoiberg, Ph.D.

Soil pH: The Foundation for Nutrient Availability

Low soil pH can reduce yield

Soil pH is considered by soil scientists to be a master variable that affects a wide range of chemical and biological processes in the soil. Low pH (below 6.0) can reduce your yield substantially. Nutrient availability is at the crux of this detrimental effect on yield. It’s important to know what is recommended by experts in your state with respect to target pH. Typically, most states in the Midwest recommend a pH of 6.0 – 6.5 to maximize yield while considering liming investment. 

Every nutrient’s availability is affected by soil pH

Soil pH is the foundation of and main governor of soil fertility. Every nutrient’s availability to plants and behavior in soil is affected by soil pH, some more so than others, which is why correcting and maintaining pH at adequate levels is so important.

pHScale Graphic 600x600

Phosphorous (P) availability is the nutrient most hindered by pH, because P is very reactive with other nutrients and minerals in the soil at varying pH levels. At high pH, P is attracted to calcium, while at low pH, P is attracted to aluminum and iron. In both cases, P binds with these elements to form less soluble compounds that plants have difficulty accessing in comparison to P availability in the right pH range.

Nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) are also affected by pH, but in a different way. At low pH, certain elements increase in levels found in the soil. This allows them to take space away from nutrients like N and K in the soil, leaving them susceptible to leaching from the soil profile.

Maintaining proper pH protects your fertilizer dollars

With the substantial investment you make on your fertility program, it should be clear to see why maintaining the right pH is essential to protecting your fertilizer investment. Further, crops need sufficient access to these nutrients in order to deliver maximum yield and return more on the investment.

MonthsAfterApplication Graphic 600x600

Traditionally, pH has been viewed as a 4-5 year program due to the slow reactivity of ag lime. With 98G, pH management can be shifted to a maintenance program with much smaller application rates (think 100-300 lbs/A) every year or every other year depending on your nitrogen fertilizer regimen. 

By being proactive about your soil pH, you are ensuring that no fertilizer dollar is wasted and a maximum yield can be attained each year.

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How to repair sodic soils

Sodium problems are becoming more widespread

Sodic soils are one of the most difficult challenges facing turf managers in areas where they exist. With the rise of effluent water use for golf course and athletic field irrigation, sodium problems are becoming more widespread than they were in the past. High levels of sodium create a toxic environment for plant health and destroy the physical structure of soils.

Sodium becomes a problem when it reaches levels that overwhelm the natural equilibrium of the soil. It causes soil clay particles to swell and disperse, causing soil pores to become blocked, limiting water infiltration and drainage of the soil. Plants trying to grow in sodic soils exhibit symptoms of drought due to excessive uptake of sodium and lack of water infiltration into the soil where roots normally grow.

Check out our document on using SO4 and 98G to manage sodium affected soils.

Del Norte High School in San Diego, California

Below are before and after photos of Del Norte High School's baseball field in San Diego, California. After extensive soil testing, it was identified that sodium levels were at toxic levels for quality turfgrass growth and that the Calcium/Magnesium ratios were dramatically off. 98G, our pelletized limestone, was applied at 10 lbs/1000 ft2 every three to four weeks from June to November for a total of about eight applications.

Below: Del Norte High School third base line in June 2016.

Del Norte 3rd Baseline Before

Below: Del Norte High School third base line in November 2016.

Del Notre 3rd Base Line After

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Soybean Nodules Adversely Affected by Low Soil pH

Soybean Harvest

Soybean nodules supply plant available nitrogen

Nodules on soybean roots are formed by a specific genus of soil-borne bacteria, Rhizobium, which form a symbiotic relationship with the plant. The nodules fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and transform it into plant available nitrogen, while the plant supplies necessary nutrients and energy for the bacteria to multiply and thrive.

Typically, nitrogen fixation via nodules supplies most of the nitrogen that a soybean crop needs during a given year and additional nitrogen applications are not advised as that can have a detrimental effect on nodules. If there is nitrogen available from applied fertilizer, the relationship between the nodules and the plants suffer, ultimately hindering the ability of the nodules to fix nitrogen. It’s a costly move for both growers and the plant-bacteria interaction.

Nodules hindered by low soil pH

Nodule formation and performance is hindered by soil pH below 5.7. Many fields in the Midwest have areas of the field, or wide expanses with values at or below this level. The acidification from nitrogen sources applied during corn rotations continue to drive pH values lower.

When ammonium sulfate (AMS) is used to supply sulfur for soybean crops, a two-headed monster is working against achieving maximum yield. First, nitrogen is being applied, which can hinder nodule formation and performance. Second, AMS is the most acidifying fertilizer used in agriculture today, and that acidity can further degrade nodules.

SO4 – a pH neutral sulfur source

SO4, which is pelletized gypsum, is a pH neutral sulfur source. Its natural solubility meets plant needs for sulfur throughout the growing season. An added benefit is the addition of calcium to replace that lost in the previous season’s harvest.

Increased soybean acres projected for 2017

Due to various agricultural economic metrics, 2017 appears to be on track for the largest soybean crop ever planted in the United States. The USDA predicts 85.5 million acres planted this year, 1.8 million more than last year.

Soybean and nodule health will be more important than ever with the predicted increase in acres planted. Ensure you are making the best decisions for crop health, including nodules, to maximize yields.

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Soil Testing Helps Inform Application Decisions

Soil Testing

Why soil test?

Soil testing is an important part of our philosophy at Calcium Products – without knowing the nutrient status of your soil, how are you to make informed decisions about what to apply to it?

Turf managers are normally good about soil testing, but if you haven’t been consistent about it or have been thinking about starting a soil testing program, now is the time to do so. With environmental regulations being administered in certain areas of the U.S., soil testing will help you maximize your fertilizer investment and make educated decisions on the best type of fertilizers to supply exactly what you need.

What a soil test measures

There are a wide variety of soil tests available that can help you gain insight into your nutrient status, soil type/texture, infiltration rates, water holding capacity, etc.

A basic soil test is likely to provide you with the following measurements:

  • - Soil pH
  • - Cation exchange capacity (CEC)
  • - Phosphorous
  • - Potassium
  • - Calcium
  • - Magnesium
  • - Lime requirement

Additional analyses that may be of interest depending on your location and situation might include:

  • - Soil texture
  • - Total soluble salts
  • - Sodium adsorption ratio (SAR)
  • - Sulfur
  • - Micronutrients

Nitrogen testing is typically not included in all sampling regimens due to its instability, making interpretation of the value difficult.

How to get started

Checking in with your state extension specialist to see what they recommend with regard to appropriate testing methods and preferred laboratories in your area is the best way to ensure you are testing all the right things for your situation.

Finding a lab you are comfortable with and that is regionally appropriate for you is important to maintain consistency and to build a historical database on which to inform decisions. The lab you choose will also offer recommendations on what nutrient levels to supply to bring them back into sufficiency range. You may double check with your state extension specialist to see if the laboratory recommendations are aligned with what they normally recommend.

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