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June 2012
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Soil testing will help prepare for spring plantings

By Amie Buckman McCracken County Extension Agriculture Agent amie.buckman@uky.edu

Now that March has made its grand entrance, it is time to prepare for spring. If you are considering fertilizing your lawn, sowing your pasture, or planting corn and beans, it is important to first consider the soil's fertility.

Many farmers, producers and homeowners start their spring preparations by making plans to purchase fertilizer. Many assume or go with the common 20-20-20 (N-P-K) ratio. However, different soil types, different fields and often different areas within the same field vary in the availability of plant nutrients. A field may contain a low level of one nutrient and a high level of another nutrient. Such variations are usually due to differences in previous fertilizer and lime applications, cropping history, nutrient contents of the parent materials, and loss of surface soil through erosion. The best way to identify these differences and adjust liming and fertilizing practices is by soil testing.

Routine soil tests from the University of Kentucky soil analysis lab will provide you with information about soil pH, cation exchange capacity and plant available nutrients: phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc. The results will include a recommendation about any amendments you may need to apply in order to improve plant vigor and yield. Soil test results should be included in a record system for each production field on a farm, along with the amounts of lime and fertilizer applied each year, the crops grown, and the yields obtained.

In an effective sampling program, each production field should be tested at least every three to four years. Some intensive cropping systems should be sampled every two to three years. Annual sampling is preferable for high cash crops, e.g., alfalfa and double-crop silage production.

Only through such a record system can fertility and/or production levels be monitored over time. This is valuable information when making decisions on fertilizer investments and production practices.

Your Agriculture Extension Agent can help answer your questions about taking the sample and turning it in. Generally, to obtain a useful sample, you'll want to map out the area that will be fertilized and planted. It's a good way to keep a record of your land use and results over time. Divide the area so that each soil sample represents one plant type or condition.

Collect at least 10 samples for each area, mix them together and then take one composite sample that represents that area for soil testing. If the soil is wet or damp, let it dry overnight. Collect about a pint and place it in the UK soil sample bag, available from any Cooperative Extension office. Identify your sample on the bag and on the submission form.

The county Extension office will submit your samples to the lab for analysis. Within 7-10 business days, you will receive your soil analysis results and recommendations.

Contact the McCracken County Cooperative Extension Office at 270-554-9520 for more information. The office is located at 2025 New Holt Road.

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