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Women in Ag: Soil Samples are Small, But Mighty

I loved to play in the dirt when I was a kid. There’s no telling how many mud pies I made, how much dirt my Tonka truck moved, or how many loads of wash my mom had to do as a result of my love of dirt.

I never gave much thought to the dirt itself. It wasn’t until I was in college, studying agriculture, that I realized how important dirt is.

Pardon me, I should have said soil. I had a professor that would correct us if we called it dirt. Even Webster’s dictionary makes a distinction, listing one definition of soil as “the upper layer of the earth that may be dug or plowed and in which plants grow.”

As farmers, we depend on the soil. If the soil is not healthy, our crops will not grow. 

We take soil samples every year. This one box of soil yields so much information; the soils lab gives us specific recommendations for each field based on the crop we plan to grow. For example, the report will tell us:

  • What the pH level is, if we need to apply lime, and if so, how much lime to apply.
  • What the current levels of phosphorus and potassium are, if we need to apply more and, if so, how much to apply.
  • If we need to apply nitrogen and, if so, how much to apply.
  • If our soils are deficient in any micronutrients.

The report includes additional information and recommendations that are useful in managing our soil. If the soil lacks nutrients, or has an excess of nutrients, plant growth will be affected. This is true if the soil is used to grow crops on the farm or landscape plants around our home’s foundation.

You can’t simply look at a sample of soil and know if it needs lime, nitrogen, phosphorus, or other nutrients and in what amounts. A soil sample takes the guesswork out of this so farmers know exactly how much fertilizer or lime to apply, cutting down on excessive application of these products. 

Have you taken soil samples this year?

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