Successful farm production starts with healthy soil. The soil is one of the most important farm assets. It provides crops with a valuable reservoir of water and nutrients. Each type of soil has its own properties. Soil texture cannot be changed, but farmers can always improve soil quality by managing the nutrient levels and soil pH. One of the most important factors in managing soil quality is regular soil analysis.
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Soil Test: What Does It Include?
Soil analysis is a valuable farm practice that determines the exact amount of available crop nutrients in the soil. It also provides a visible snapshot of various chemical, physical, and biological soil properties. Some of the most basic but necessary micronutrient measurements include:
- Determining levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium
- Analyzing soil pH
- Determining humus content, available lime, and organic matter
Why Is Soil Analysis So Important?
Soil analysis gives valuable information, essential for soil quality improvement. By tracking the exact amount of soil nutrients, a farmer can easily adjust fertilization in accordance with soil and crop requirements. Using farm management software, farmers can take advantage of getting fertilizer recommendations based on data that increases plant growth for optimum yield. Additionally, soil analysis facilitates crop nutrient management by revealing the current soil pH level.
Soil pH is important due to its influence on the uptake of soil nutrients. The main purpose of managing soil pH is to be able to adjust the acidity to the point where there are no toxic metals exposed to the crops, as well as to ensure that nutrient availability is at its maximum.
Every crop has its own optimal pH range. Because of this, some crops grow better and can achieve their full potential in acid, while for others, this takes place in a more alkaline-based soil. The optimal HHpH levels for the most common crops are shown in the table below.
When Is the Best Time for Soil Analysis?
Other important aspects to consider are the best time of the year to take analysis, as well as the amount of time that should be allocated to do so. For example, soil sampling for annual crops should be taken after the harvest. In doing so, a farmer is left with plenty of time to plan fertilization management. On the other hand, the best time for a soil analysis of perennial crops is during the dormancy stage. In the end, how often will a farmer analyze his soil, will depend entirely on him; whether he is ready to invest in soil quality and a higher yield or not.
Quality and balanced soil are crucial factors for achieving higher yields. Therefore, farmers should collect soil samples frequently in order to detect any changes that could affect crop yield. It’s recommended to perform a soil analysis every 3-4 years. However, it would be ideal to practice soil analysis as often as possible, especially when growing annual crops in a crop rotation in which case, it is recommended to take soil analysis after every third crop in the rotation.
Soil Sampling: How To Properly Take a Sample For Analysis?
Taking a sample of soil is more than simply buying soil test kits or taking a patch of dirt to a soil test lab in your nearest garden center. Some key information you should expect to receive in your soil test report include; soil salinity, electrical conductivity, base saturation, etc. However, in order to get the most accurate soil test results, you need to make sure that the sample you provided is an accurate dissection of your field. To do that means that samples should be taken by probe, but in the absence of that, a shovel is your best alternative.
If the sample is taken by shovel, the procedure is as follows:
- Dig a pit
- Vertically cut the soil along the pit wall
- The shovel must be pulled out so that the soil does not slip off it
- Remove approx. 5cm of soil to the left and right of the shovel
- Your sample is what remains longitudinally along the middle of the shovel
Sample depth by crop type:
A sample is taken to a depth of normal tillage i.e., to rooting of plants, for field crops 0-30 cm, for permanent crops (orchards and vineyards) 0-30 cm, and 30-60 cm. On analysis is given an average sample that is obtained by mixing all individual samples from 20-25 places evenly distributed over the entire surface from which samples are taken. If the soil is strongly sloped or the area from which samples are taken is greater than 5 hectares or the soil is not the same type, then more individual samples should be taken. The samples are mixed up to 1 kg in mass.
The separated sample is placed in a plastic bag with the following information:
- Name of owner and an address
- Designation of the plot
- Depth of sampling
- Indication of preculture with yield and previous fertilization
- The name of the crop planned or sown for which soil samples are taken
- Date of sampling
What Happens After Soil Analysis?
Depending on the results of the soil analysis, a farmer can easily manage soil requirements for a certain crop. The results will indicate him in case that he needs to add lime in order to manage soil acidity. Liming rates are usually determined by taking into account soil type, depth of tillage, and limestone quality. The following table shows the lime rates according to the measured soil pH and its structure.
Fertilizing crops without knowing their requirements and available soil nutrients is equivalent to driving a car while blindfolded. Therefore, soil analysis is the only way to ensure proper soil management and increase the chance of higher yield.
Preparing Soil and Planting Crops
After a thorough analysis and fertilization of soil are complete it’s time to start planting your seeds or seedlings for the upcoming season. But is it really as simple as that? To find out more about how you can prepare your soil for planting check out our recommended five ways to manage soil for planting. Along with some helpful tips we discuss how using Farm Management Software like AGRIVI helps farmers and growers prepare their soil and analyze data on time to maximize yield.