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The earth is very vast, stretching millions of kilometers. This means that there are significant differences in climate, animals, vegetation, and even human beings from one region to the other. With such diversity, it is only logical to assume that soils as well differ from place to place. Factors such as crops grown and fertilizers used can even make your farm vary in soil composition from that of your neighbor. Therefore, if you are planning to plant, it is crucial to test your soil. This will give you an idea of the soil’s nutritional composition as well as its Ph.
While soil testing is widespread today, the practice was only introduced in America in the late 1940s. Back then, it was used to test for lime and fertilizer. Due to increased modernization, farm sizes were becoming more prominent, which result in large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers aimed at increasing yields.
The mass production of farm produce slowly began to deplete soils of two particular plant nutrients; Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). This nutrient deficiency resulted in lower yields. To try and mitigate the problem, there were concentrated efforts across the United States to develop soil testing technologies.
Over the years, soil tests have expanded their scope to include other nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. Therefore, soil testing is a valuable tool that is used to analyze the economically optimum rates of nutrients that soil from a given area has to support crop growth.
What Are The Benefits Of Soil Testing
It provides information about the current health status of the farm’s soil. Soil testing looks at the biological, physical, and chemical properties of the soil. All these properties play a crucial role in determining the fertility of the soil. While the farmer can figure out certain properties such as the texture, it is impossible to see the chemical composition of the soil with the naked eye.
As such, there is a need for an extensive soil diagnosis to determine chemical properties such as pH and nutrient levels. Since different crops have different pH and nutritional requirements, the farmer will make informed decisions on which crops to plant.
In addition, the tests will tell you what you can do to improve the soil. The soil test report is very comprehensive, and it gives detailed recommendations on the options that the farmer has.
Promoting efficient use of fertilizer.
The primary goal of soil testing is to provide you with the nutritional requirements of the soil so that you can know which fertilizer to use. Soil testing gives you the specific deficiency that your soil is experiencing.
When you know the exact fertilizer that your crops and soil need, you will not waste money buying unnecessary extra fertilizers. On a macro level, nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus are very limited in supply.
This means that if farmers buy such nutrients while not necessarily needing them, it can lead to potential shortages in the future. Soil testing also reduces the chance of over-fertilization. Over-fertilization occurs when a farmer applies fertilizer without knowing the exact nutrients that the soil requires and ends up applying excessive amounts.
Over-fertilization is not only harmful to your crops; it also leads to environmental degradation. It results in water pollution and nutrient leaching. Such incidences can end up causing irreversible harm to different aquatic life. Conducting a soil test can help prevent such adverse environmental consequences.
Help understand pH levels.
Soil pH is an essential aspect of understanding which nutrients will be absorbed by the soil. While your soil might have an appropriate amount of nutrients, an imbalanced pH can negatively affect how the plant’s absorption rates. To understand how pH affects the availability of nutrients for the plant, think of it as a highway for nutrients.
Regardless of where the highway is heading, if the nutrients cannot get on it, it becomes useless. For a majority of plants, the recommended pH ranges from 6.0 to 7.5. However, certain plants such as blueberries prefer soils that are acidic with pH levels of between 4.5 and 5.5.
One of the products used to control soil acidity is limestone. It is applied to reduce the acidity of soils. Therefore, when farmers have the correct estimate of the pH, they can apply limestone efficiently. we also talked about What Lowers Soil PH.
Helps identify nutrients that could be yield-limiting.
Different nutrients serve different purposes. For example, nitrogen helps boost photosynthesis since it is part of the chlorophyll molecule. However, some nutrients might be beneficial for one crop and harmful to another.
In addition, certain nutrients compete with each other over plant uptake. For instance, calcium competes with potassium absorption. As such, a balance needs to be arrived at to avoid deficiency. Another example is high sulfur concertation, reducing the uptake of nitrates.
Soil testing provides the farmer with all this information. Therefore, a farm can have all the key nutrients required for better yields, but absorption can be severely affected by an imbalance in the nutrient rations.
Improves yield and quality of crops.
Finally, soil testing can drastically improve a farm’s output. When you follow all the instructions and advice that is contained in the soil testing report, you will be able to control the production of his plants.
This is because you will use the right fertilizer and plant the right crop dependent on the soil type that you have. However, the effectiveness of the soil test is heavily reliant on the interpretation. Numerous errors occur during soil test interpretation.
Therefore, it is usually advisable to consult testing labs that have enough resources to provide accurate results.
How soil testing is done
For effective tests to be done, you first need to collect the right samples. The best time to collect samples is in the fall after the harvest. For most farmers, soil testing is conducted every 2-3 years. It is essential to ensure that you collect samples at the same time each year since results vary depending on the time of the year. It is also critical for you to have records of crop history, such as rotation and past problems. Also, you need to map up your farm with outlined boundaries where you will assign all fields a permanent number. Below is an outlined procedure of how to take a soil sample.
- First, you will need the following tools (Farm map, garden trowel, soil boxes, clean plastic bucket, measuring cup, sample submission forms, soil probe)
- Ensure that you have at least 2o cores in each composite sample regardless of the area.
- Take samples randomly in a zig-zag pattern for uniform distribution.
What the results show
After the soil has been analyzed, you will receive a report with detailed information about the soil. The first section of that report will review the pH, percent-base-saturation, as well as the cation exchange capacity (CEC). CEC basically measures the soil texture. When the CEC readings are below 8, the soil is sandy. When the number ranges from 8-14, the sand is loamy, and above that, the clay content is reasonably high. The percent-base-saturation tells you the proportion of the amounts of magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, and hydrogen in the soil.
For instance, when you have magnesium levels range from 10-18%, potassium at 35%, and calcium at 65-75%, the soil is considered to be ideal for microbial activity and water holding capacity. The pH measures the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and is based on a scale of 0-14. An ideal pH for most crops varies from 6.0 to 7.5. Soil pH is critical since it affects the availability of nutrients. For instance, when the pH is high, the levels of manganese and iron reduce.
The bottom line is that you should never guess; instead test your soil. As a farmer, you need to be equipped with the knowledge required to better your production. Soil testing allows you to know everything there is about your farm’s nutritional requirements.
This will ultimately help you make important decisions when it comes to the type of fertilizer you use. With the prices of fertilizers increasing every day, the information from soil tests is more valuable than ever.
When testing the soil, you must remember that the results of the analysis are only useful if the right samples are collected. Always ensure that the samples you collect are a true representation of the farm and avoid picking samples from areas such as near trees and where erosion has affected the soil composition.
Lastly, you must always seek the service of credible testing labs for accurate results.