As a farmer or rancher, you know that the health of your soil is vital to the success of your operation. Soil is the lifeblood of any agricultural endeavor, and the importance of monitoring your soil needs is unparalleled. Fall is an opportune time of the year to conduct soil tests so you can make the necessary amendments before winter sets in.
“Obtaining a quality soil sample is vital for receiving accurate nutrient recommendations for your field,” said Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist for the University of Missouri Extension.
The Extension recommends that farmers and ranchers test their soil every three to five years to see what their soil test levels are.
Scheidt explained how to take soil tests to send off for evaluation: “Farmers should have at least one sample per field or pasture. If the land lays differently or has been farmed differently in the past, two or more samples should be taken. Ten to 20 cores of soil that are uniformly 6 to 8 inches deep taken in a zigzag pattern across the field is recommended.
“Once the cores are collected in a bucket, break up and mix the cores and remove any rocks, sticks or grass; you want to send as much soil as possible because the soil lab doesn’t test nutrient levels of rock, grass or sticks. Farmers should not sample near places where livestock congregate (such as ponds, feeders, or shade) or near gravel roads. Do not sample fields that have been fertilizer or limed in the previous six months, lime additions may not appear in results and fertilizer additions may show up too high. Do not forget to label each sample so that you know exactly where you took it.”
Necessary tools to collect soil samples are a soil probe, a bucket, and bags and permanent markers to hold and label the collected soil samples.
If you are testing your soil in the fall, remember to test it at the same time of year when you test again – this helps you track your results. “The most important thing to remember with soil testing is that you need to sample fields and pastures during the same time of year every time you sample so that results are uniform and you can tell whether or not your land is improving,” Jill Scheidt said. She noted that “the first thing producers should always look for on a soil test is if lime is needed. It takes usually takes lime six months to break down and change soil pH, so if pH needs to be corrected, lime should be applied as soon as possible. Lime is the most important soil amendment because a proper soil pH is needed for other nutrients to become available for uptake by the plant.” Fall is a good time to test for this so that if your soil does require applications of lime, it can be applied and allowed to break down into the soil over the winter.
The Louisiana State University College of Agriculture recommends fall soil testing to evaluate your fertility program. According to an LSU article “fall test values should come out mid-range to show that your fertility program was adequate and not too strong or weak. Too strong of a fertility program will cause a buildup of nutrients to test high or very high by fall. This can actually lead to growth problems or groundwater pollution. Too weak a program shows low to very low fall values in a fall test. This indicates that you had run out of good fertility before the end of the growing season and may have weakened the plants.”
Fall soil tests are like a map, with the end destination being healthy soil (and therefore better production) for your farm or ranch. Be sure to contact your local extension office for more information on conducting soil tests.


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