Fall is best time for soil sample testing

soil samples
Photo courtesy of University of Missouri

A small investment up front in soil tests could potentially save users large amounts in fertility budgets the coming season. Other times, the tests can help them identify nutrient deficiencies that could cost them yield potential.

Too often, farmers follow routine fertilization schedules and end up applying too much fertilizer to fields, says Manjula Nathan, director of the University of Missouri Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory. A simple soil test gives them accurate information to guide nutrient management decisions.

Two Lawrence County farmers shared their savings stories with MU Extension agronomist Tim Schnakenberg.

One farmer had fertilized his cattle pastures every year with the same fertilizer. “He budgeted a lot of money to do it,” Schnakenberg said in a news release.

One year, he spent $270 on soil sampling. He reported saving $20,000 that he would have spent on fertilizer.

Another businessman bought a farm and budgeted $10,000 for nutrients. He spent $85 for soil tests that showed that nutrient levels were fine.

“Soil testing is a great investment compared to the cost of lime and fertilizer over several acreages,” Schnakenberg says.

In other cases, however, soil tests show low fertility levels. Area MU Extension agronomists can review test results with farmers and make unbiased, research-based recommendations to build up fertility levels.

Fall is a good time to submit soil samples, Nathan says. The lab processes about 32,000 field crop tests annually.

Spring is the busiest time. Sampling in fall gives producers sufficient time to make plans for fertilizer applications.

Contact your local county Extension agent or university soil lab about sampling and sample submission procedures.

The MU soil and plant testing lab, for example, has a one-day turnaround time. Regional agronomy and horticulture specialists and firms with accounts at the lab receive the soil test results by email on the same day they are processed.

Users may also access soil test results online with a password. If you are receiving results by mail, it takes about seven to 10 days from submission to county Extension offices to receipt of results.

“Soil testing is an essential management tool for efficient nutrient management that results in improved production and optimized returns,” Nathan says.

The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources contributed information for this article.

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