In the previous article in our “How often should I test my soil?” series, we gave a brief history of soil testing and how it has been adapted over time. At the end of that article, we suggested that appropriate soil testing frequency depends on how precisely you wish to manage fertility inputs and eliminate guessing. When deciding how tightly to manage your soil, consider the following.
How much are you guessing?
A farmer who begins a career in their early 20s could be farming for 40 years. Adhering to the minimum standard of testing soil once every 4 years, that farmer will test the soil 10 times, leaving 30 years without collected data. From this perspective, the minimum doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Generally, home gardeners don’t require an intense system of data collection. Testing once every 4 or 5 years is more than adequate to gauge the nutrient levels in the soil of most home gardens. Typically, home gardening isn’t intense enough to cause great soil changes. Commercial produce growers, on the other hand, can greatly benefit from annual complete soil data collection. This not only allows a commercial grower to controlling cost and enhancing soil health, but it also shows customers that the grower is making effort provide to environmentally friendly food.
What is growing in your soil?
For those with pastures, what constitutes an adequate soil health management system depends on how intensely the pasture is grazed and what supplemental food sources are available. If a grazing pasture is a major food source, a more intense soil health data collection system is appropriate.
Commodities such as corn, soybeans, and wheat tend to be grown on larger acreages. Often in these cases, growers overlook the value of intense soil data collection. When growing commodities, ownership or control of the land as well as land costs can be important factors in selecting a soil management strategy. More intense management practices can allow growers to control costs more readily. The slim margins involved in growing commodities make it important to scrutinize each expense in the operation.
Cation Exchange Capacity
The characteristics of the soil itself can guide your soil management decisions. Heavy soils that usually have a high exchange capacity are a little more forgiving than low-exchange soils. The condition of heavy soils may not change as quickly as that of lower-exchange soils, which should at least be considered for a biannual testing program. The lower the exchange capacity, the more quickly the soil will change as a result of fertility applications.
At the end of the day, it is ultimately up to you as the producer how intense you feel a soil testing program should be. For unbiased advice on soil management for your farm, contact SoilRight. We can help you learn to make smarter decisions to lower your costs, enhance your yields, and boost your profitability. Click the link below for a free consultation.