Soil Sampling: The New, Old Way

Solum's Wet K Process Machines
Solum’s Wet K Process Machines

This year, Solum Inc. is officially launching its new wet potassium (K) soil testing process to the industry. In a nutshell, this will allow customers to have their soils tested for K content in a wet slurry rather than the near bone dry mixtures usually used for this procedure.

And when you consider all the factors, says Nick Koshnick, co-founder and CEO of Solum, it makes perfect sense to use a wet method to accurately test K levels in soil samples. “Crops live in field moist soil,” says Koshnick. “They don’t live in baked, pulverized soil – unless they are growing somewhere in Arizona.”

Despite this fact, the ag industry’s accepted method of K soil sampling has used dried soil. In this process, lab technicians take a soil sample, dry it in an oven for six to 12 hours and crush it into a fine powder. They then take a sub-sample of this mixture, add chemical re-agents to extract plant available nutrients, and then measure the amount of the extracted nutrients.

Unfortunately, says Koshnick, these final results can sometimes give artificially higher K readings. “If you have a soil sample that has a lot of clay in it, there might be quite of bit of K stuck in those inter-layers,” he says. “Heating and crushing will release this into the general sample and could give a higher K reading then is actually plant available. For the customer, the most useful reading from the soil sample is the K that can actually be taken up by the growing plant. When the soil processing artificially increases or decreases the measured K values, it decreases your ability to accurately predict when the crop will respond to applied potash.”

A Wet History

In truth, says Koshnick, soil researchers have known about this “changing K possibility” for heated samples since the late 1950s. And for many years, soil sampling labs such as the one at Iowa State University (ISU) did offer a wet K soil sampling process as an alternative. However, performing wet K sampling at this time proved to be ultimately more expensive/time-consuming than dry sampling, so the university discontinued its wet K testing program back in 1988.

But according to Koshnick, wet K sampling was in many ways a superior soil testing method compared with dry. “The whole concept of field moist processing was to measure the soil sample as close to field conditions as possible,” he says. “That was something I agreed with.”

So, when Solum began operation a few years ago, Koshnick saw an opportunity to return wet K soil sampling to the mix. “K was something that many people didn’t really put a lot of attention into, but research has shown that an adequate supply of it in the soil can increase yields dramatically,” he says. “Given how important increasing yields have become in agriculture over the past few years, I thought it made sense to look for better ways to determine K levels for the end users.”

The Solum team then spent several months designing and building automated machines specially built to handle wet K soil sampling, which they used to measure commercial soil this past fall. “These machines ran 18 hours per day processing samples for our customers,” says Koshnick. “And we are building the next generation of machines right now.”

The Wet K Method

To conduct its wet K soil sampling method, Solum researchers receive a soil sample from a customer at the company’s Ames, IA, facility. These are marked with radio-frequency identification tags and then lightly blended to get a sub-samples for testing. “The sub-sample is first tested for its moisture content,” says Koshnick. “Researchers then add water to the sub-sample and it goes into one of our testing units. They then do some chemical extracting of the sample to get a proper K reading.” In total, he adds, this whole process allows Solum to turn around the soil sample for its customers in one to three business days.

During 2013, Koshnick expects many customers interested in getting an accurate reading on their K soil levels will come to Solum for help. “I remember talking with someone at ISU and them telling me that dropping wet K soil sampling from their agricultural offerings back in 1988 ‘was a big mistake,’” he says. “Now, using our resources, we can again offer the industry this important method for determining K levels in our soils.”

Leave a Reply

Equipment Stories
EquipmentMeeting Changing Liquid Storage Needs
October 10, 2014
Tank and containment choices are expanding with shifts in farming practices and the economy. Read More
Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
CropLife 100Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
March 3, 2015
Two CropLife 100 retailers — South Dakota Wheat Growers (ranked No. 11) and North Central Farmers Elevator (No. 19) — have entered into a Letter of Intent to unify the two companies into a newly named cooperative. Read More
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
Carl Casale of CHS
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
Latest News
FungicidesSyngenta Suing Willowood Over Azoxystrobin Fungicide
March 27, 2015
Syngenta announced today that it has sued agrochemical maker Willowood, LLC., for patent and copyright infringement, as well as unfair Read More
ManagementRetail Week: The Future Of Mycogen Seeds; The 4Rs At Na…
March 27, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Matt Hopkins discuss recent trips, including a look at the future of Mycogen Seeds at Dow Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto Hears The WHO
March 27, 2015
Another challenge to the safety of glyphosate, and the responses from supporters and opponents, calls to mind a classic Dr. Seuss story. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Plant Food Expands Sales Team
March 27, 2015
Monty’s Plant Food Company, a leader in natural soil enhancement and  plant fertility products, has hired Andrew Bullock as a Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Louisiana Plant Poised For 2015 Production
March 26, 2015
As the 2015 planting season gets underway, growers across the country will need crop protection products to combat pests and Read More
Lake Erie Nutrient Stewardship
LegislationOhio Lawmakers Finalize Phosphorus Restrictions
March 25, 2015
State lawmakers on Wednesday finalized new rules designed to curb toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie, calling the regulations a major step forward in addressing the problem. Read More
Spreaders17 Fertilizer Spreaders For 2015
March 25, 2015
Manufacturers shoot for versatility and accuracy in this year's crop of fertilizer spreaders. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Hires Mid-South Product Consultant
March 25, 2015
Monty's Plant Food Co. has hired Matt Woodring as a Product Consultant for portions of Central Kentucky and Tennessee.    Read More
StewardshipMapShots Integrates With DriftWatch
March 23, 2015
Growers and agricultural providers using AgStudio FARM and AgStudio PRO can now view vital information about specialty crops and apiaries through a recent integration with the DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site Registry from FieldWatch, Inc. Read More
Crop InputsWorld Health Organization Report Contradicts Scientific…
March 23, 2015
A new report from the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate with a “2A” rating as a probable carcinogen, a Read More
Eric SfiligojSeed Treatment Stays Necessary
March 20, 2015
Grower-customers looking to scale back spending in 2015 won’t consider seed treatment, say experts. Read More
HerbicidesMARCH MADNESS: Industry Rallies Around Glyphosate Safet…
March 20, 2015
A newly published report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies the herbicide glyphosate as a "2A-rated possible carcinogen" and the ag industry responds by circling the wagons. Read More
ManagementRetail Week: Precision survey, a technology acquisition…
March 20, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sflilgoj discuss recent travel, the upcoming precision adoption survey, and an unusual sighting at a Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Launching TerraGrow Soil Inoculant
March 20, 2015
TerraGrow is a blend of beneficial bacterial and fungal spores and nutrients carefully designed to promote healthier soil and crops. Read More
Winter Wheat
AdjuvantsMax Systems Debuts New Adjuvant NanoRevolution 2.0
March 18, 2015
Added to a tank mix of glyphosate at the conservative rate of two to four ounces per acre, NanoRevolution 2.0 has proven effective in killing resistant weed species that had already had up to two applications of the leading glyphosate product. Read More
Photo credit: United Soybean Board/the Soybean Checkoff
Seed/BiotechAgnition Launches Microbial Catalyst Seed Treatment
March 18, 2015
Agnition it has launched Commence for Soybeans, a microbial catalyst seed treatment for soybeans that stimulates microbial activity for healthier soil and a superior growth environment. Read More
4R Certified, Nutrient Stewardship Council,
StewardshipTyler Grain & Fertilizer Now 4R Certified
March 18, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced Tyler Grain & Fertilizer Co. in Smithville, OH, has been added to Read More