The guiding principle of soil health is that it’s a process, not an event. Whatever issues you encounter this year, it’s important to remain dedicated to a good soil health program. Healthy soil is the foundation from which all farm success is built. A proactive soil health program can protect a farm from the deep valleys of production that can result from unfavorable weather or the effects of other forces beyond your control. When faced with obstacles like drought, flooding, and low crop prices, keep soil health a priority for the following year. By approaching the process methodically, you can avoid paying a fortune while giving your soil the ingredients it needs to nourish healthy crops.
Get current soil data.
Accurate, current soil data is one of the most important tools needed to build an effective soil health program. In the past, collecting data every four years was common; however, modern practices are trending toward biannual or annual data collection. Annual soil sampling and testing will give you the most accurate information about the current state of your soil, enabling you to create the most effective plan for improving it.
Analyze the data to determine what nutrients you should add to your soil.
Calcium & Magnesium
Once you have current soil data, analyze it with an eye toward elements that are most commonly in need of application. Calcium and magnesium are critical to soil health. Generally speaking, these two elements most dramatically affect the soil pH. If you focus on fixing the calcium levels, correct soil pH will often follow. If a calcium application is indicated, then make every effort to accomplish this even if you need to put off adding other fertility elements. Your plants won’t be able to effectively use other nutrients if your soil doesn’t have an appropriate calcium level or if soil pH is off.
Potassium & Phosphorus
The next element to investigate is potassium. Next to calcium, potassium is the element that most often needs to be added to the soil. It can be difficult to raise and to maintain calcium levels, especially in many Midwestern soils. Phosphorus is the third most commonly needed soil amendment. When determining whether you should add potassium, phosphorus, or both, the specific crop you intend to plant will often guide your choice.
Other elements that may be needed include sulfur, boron, zinc, and manganese. If the three elements discussed above are at desired levels, then consider adding any of these that are lacking. While other elements are also important for plant health, they are not as commonly added to Midwestern soils. Nonetheless, knowing the levels of these elements can shed light on how effectively crops are able to use other nutrients.
Use soil data to make a plan and a budget.
Once you’ve determined your soil’s need for additional elements, develop a budget that addresses the needs of your soil while considering your financial limitations. The key is to move forward. Big soil problems don’t develop overnight and can’t be fixed quickly. Often, to stay in the agriculture business over the long term, you need to make incremental improvements to get you through the current year and lay the foundation for better results in the future.
SoilRight provides comprehensive soil management services, including soil mapping, sampling and testing, fertility reporting, and independent fertility recommendations. Because we don't sell products, our goal is simply to give you the best possible advice to improve the health of your soil and your farm business. Click below to request a free consultation to learn more about how we can assist you.