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Fall the ideal time for soil testing

Agriculture.com Staff 09/22/2006 @ 1:11pm

Soil fertility testing of all fields on a regular basis is an important facet of good crop management, says Robert Bellm, University of Illinois Extension crop systems educator.

Although soil samples can be pulled almost any time of the year that the ground is not frozen, one of the best times to sample is in the fall after harvest is complete. Soils are typically drier in the fall than in the spring, and fertility levels are somewhat depleted by the crop just harvested. Sampling at the same time of year each sampling cycle will also make comparisons of sample results over time more consistent.

Field sampling should be done on a grid pattern, and it is recommended that at least one sample be taken for each 2.5 acres. Using this method, a 40-acre field will have 16 samples collected from it for analysis. Fields with highly variable topography or past history of uneven manure applications may require a more intensive sampling pattern.

It is helpful to draw a map indicating where the samples are pulled from, so that when the test results come back, you can identify differences in fertility patterns within the field.

"Depth of sample collection is important. In Illinois, we recommend that growers collect samples from the top seven inches of the soil profile," Bellm says. "This seven-inch depth is important because our fertility recommendations are based upon this sampling depth. Samples pulled from greater depths will tend to overestimate the amount of fertilizer needing to be applied, while samples from shallower depths will tend to underestimate the amount of fertilizer needed."

Soil fertility testing of all fields on a regular basis is an important facet of good crop management, says Robert Bellm, University of Illinois Extension crop systems educator.

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