As producers around the region begin to plan for their upcoming planting season, they should consider having their soil tested before putting seeds into the ground.
“Nutrient inputs are some of the more expensive things that the farmer has to do, and it makes a big difference as far as crop yield goes. Even crop quality with some crops too. So it is important to know the nutrient values, because some of them can change drastically from year to year,” said Dave Franzen, North Dakota State University professor and soil science specialist.
While soil testing can be yet another expense a producer puts on their tab, Franzen explained in the long run the initial investment can actually end up saving the farmer money or even bring them some piece of mind.
“We use soil testing to give us an idea whether or not we’re going to get a return on our investment of fertilizer. There normally is money to be saved, but sometimes it gives them confidence in what they are doing in their fields,” Franzen said.
While farmers can gather their own samples to be sent away and be tested, it is also an option for a crop consultant from a fertilizer company to come out to the fields and collect soil samples for testing. The nutrient that is tested for most frequently is nitrogen, a nutrient that is imperative.
When it comes to collecting samples, a sample should be taken from the most dominant soil in the field, the soil that is most represented. However, it is also important to take samples from irregular parts of the field as well. Franzen advises on sectioning the fields into zones, the zones being divided based on their soil type. Homogeneous soil will be sectioned off together. Franzen explained you may see anywhere from three sections to seven within a single field, depending on the characteristics of the field’s soil.
Franzen strongly encourages farmers to get their soil tested.
“It’s a mystery to me why everybody does not do it. There are a lot of people that do, but there are some that just don’t. They think they can just do the same thing as last year and that is a mistake. It is always good to maximize your economic return, and it is hard to do that unless you know the status of your soil,” Franzen said.