The Importance of Soil Testing in Preseason Planning in Agriculture
by Jamie Nix on 11/Jan/23
In this blog, we explore the importance of soil testing in preseason planning for farmers. We discuss the benefits of conducting a soil test, including the ability to identify soil nutrient levels, pH, and potential problems such as soil compaction or drainage issues. We also provide tips for conducting a soil test, including selecting a reliable testing laboratory and following proper sampling procedures.
We show how to use soil test results to increase crop yields and improve soil health. This includes adding the proper nutrients when needed and using management techniques that promote soil biology and nutrient cycling. By understanding the nutrient availability and overall health of their soil, farmers can take steps to ensure the long-term productivity of their fields.
Preseason planning is essential to farming, as it helps farmers prepare for the upcoming growing season and optimize crop yields. A critical aspect of preseason planning is soil testing, which involves collecting and analysing soil samples to understand the soil's nutrient availability and overall health.
Conducting a soil test allows farmers to identify any potential problems with their soil, such as blockages in nutrient cycling pathways, disease risks, or drainage issues, and take corrective measures to address these problems before planting. Soil testing is also a cost-effective way to inform fertilization and other management decisions, as it can help farmers to avoid applying unnecessary inputs that could be detrimental to soil health.
Why conduct a soil test?
There are several reasons why it is necessary for farmers to conduct a soil test before planting. First and foremost, a soil test provides vital information about the nutrient cycling pathways in the soil and whether these levels are sufficient to support healthy plant growth.
Some soil tests also allow farmers to determine the pH of their soil, which is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. Different crops have specific pH requirements, and it is essential for farmers to ensure that the pH of their soil is within the optimal range for their chosen crops.
In addition, a soil test can identify potential problems with soil structure, such as compaction or poor drainage, which can negatively impact crop yields. By identifying these problems early on, farmers can take steps to address them before planting.
Conducting a soil test can also be a cost-effective way to inform fertilization and other management decisions. Rather than blindly applying fertilizers, farmers can use soil test results to determine which nutrients their soil lacks and apply the appropriate fertilizers in the right amounts. This can help reduce the risk of over or under-fertilizing, which can harm soil health and plant growth.
In addition, by understanding the nutrient levels in their soil, farmers can potentially save money by avoiding the unnecessary application of fertilizers that are not needed.
How to conduct a soil test:
Conducting a soil test is a relatively simple process, but it is essential for farmers to follow proper sampling procedures to ensure accurate results. The first step is to select a reliable testing laboratory, as the quality of the results will depend on the accuracy of the laboratory's analysis.
Next, farmers will need to collect soil samples from their fields, collecting representative samples that accurately reflect the soil's health. At Biome Makers, we provide sampling tubes and a sampling spoon to facilitate soil collection. The amount of soil needed is approximately ¼ of the tube. The amount we request you send is 5gr. per sample. No, additional equipment is required to collect soil samples, however, we strongly suggest wearing gloves to protect your hands. Before and after taking each sample, it is important to sanitize your trowel with ethanol and let it fully dry before continuing. This will help prevent contamination and ensure accurate results. Ideally, samples should arrive at the lab within 72h from the time they are collected. However, we have not observed significant changes in the microbial communities for a period of up to 15 days after sampling (at room temperature). Given that soil microbiomes are sensitive, our recommended guidelines for proper storage and shipping are: Soil samples can be stored long-term at -20 °C (-4 °F). Soil samples can be stored up to 3 days if refrigerated at 0-6 °C (32-48 °F). Optimum shipping for soil samples should be within 1 day, with the maximum transit time of 5 days at room temperature.
Once the soil samples have been collected, they should be properly labelled and sent to the testing laboratory for analysis. Soil tests vary from basic tests that measure nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels to comprehensive tests that measure nutrient cycling, biodiversity, and more. Tests available for specific issues might include soil pH or salinity, as well as chemical, physical, and biological soil tests that can provide additional information about soil health.
Traditional soil analyses provide information about the physical properties (e.g. texture) and the chemical properties of the soil, such as pH or the concentration of nutrients, but do not take soil microbiology into account.
Instead of measuring the amount of nutrients in the soil, Biome Makers’ BeCrop Test measures the microbial processes involved in nutrient cycling, such as those that fix carbon into the soil, or supply plants with available nutrient forms (e.g. mineralization or solubilization), and those that immobilize nutrients back into forms not readily available for plants (immobilization, denitrification).
How to interpret soil test results:
Once the soil test results are received, it is crucial for farmers to carefully review and interpret them to understand what the results mean for their fields. The results will typically include information on the levels of various nutrients in the soil, as well as the pH and any potential problems such as compaction or poor drainage.
It is vital for farmers to pay attention to blocked nutrient cycling pathways and disease risks, as both can impact plant growth. For example, a specific blocked nutrient pathway may limit plant growth, while an excess of the same nutrient could potentially be toxic to plants.
Using soil test results to optimize crop yields and soil health:
Once farmers have interpreted their soil test results, they can use this information to optimize crop yields and soil health. For example, if the soil test results reveal a deficiency of a particular nutrient, farmers can apply the appropriate fertilizers to address this deficiency and ensure that their crops have the nutrients they need to grow.
There are also several management practices that farmers can use to improve soil health and reduce the need for synthetic inputs. Cover cropping, for example, involves planting a cover crop between rows of main crops to add organic matter to the soil and improve soil structure.
Composting is another effective way to improve soil health, as it adds nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil. Integrated pest management (IPM) involves using a combination of cultural, biological, and chemical methods to control pests and reduce the need for synthetic pesticides. By implementing these and other practices, farmers can help to improve soil health and support the long-term productivity of their fields.
Soil testing is an essential part of preseason planning for farmers, as it allows them to understand their soil's nutrient levels and overall health. By conducting a soil test, farmers can identify any potential problems with their ground, such as nutrient deficiencies or pH imbalances, and take corrective measures to address these problems before planting.
Soil testing can also be a cost-effective way to inform fertilization and other management decisions. By using soil test results to optimize crop yields and soil health, farmers can help ensure their fields' long-term productivity. We encourage all farmers to invest in soil testing as a key part of their preseason planning efforts.