Soil testing provides real value to growers. Soil tests provide a report card of where various nutrient levels are in the soil and provides a layer of data information that helps to make better management decisions.
As you work to pull samples this fall and interpret soil testing results, here are five tips on how to have better conversations with growers about soil testing and fertility recommendations that will help them maintain production and profitability while being good stewards of the land.
1. Do Your Homework on the Results
The most challenging aspect of a soil test is doing the analysis. As a trusted advisor and local expert, knowing field and grower specific information can help turn lab-generated recommendations into customized recommendations based on observations and knowledge. Data on the specific soil type, history of field, farming practices, and grower goals are extremely valuable tools. For example, recommendations for a grower with a pH higher than 7.5, organic matter at 1%, and CEC less than 15, will look very different than recommendation for a grower with a 6.0 pH, 5% organic matter, and 25 CEC. Whereas the first grower in the example will typically rely heavily on the local knowledge of their agronomist to provide recommendations for spoon feeding and split applications for top yields, since nutrients will not sit in the soil, the second grower would likely get a recommendation for front loaded nutrients and potential spoon feeding where they can. Collecting and organizing soil test data is essential to insightful recommendations on practices, products, and agronomic solutions that you provide the grower. Historical data and trend lines can help a grower see where they are, what their goals are, and help them to improve their field fertility every year efficiently and profitably.
2. Start With the Weakest Link
When looking at a soil test, a great place to start is identifying the greatest limiting factor, which is often the biggest opportunity. For example, pH, organic matter, and CEC are three of the biggest factors to consider, as they affect how well many nutrients react in the soil. Soil is a living organism and fine-tuning recommendations based on soil type and conditions can lead to more sound recommendations. If soil test shows zinc as a yield limiting factor, you can easily build a case for additional strategic fertility recommendations. As a trusted advisor, you have a responsibility to help properly manage fertilizers in crops that provide economic, social, and environmental benefits for your grower. Using the 4R nutrients stewardship concept is an easy way to provide solutions that place the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place, to keep you and your grower’s operation thriving.
3. Be Upfront and Intentional With Solutions
When providing recommendations to growers, always help them to understand the recommendation, but also the impact of the results. Finding and incorporating new technology into fertility plans is another way to help growers achieve production, profitability, and sustainability goals. If deficiencies of certain key nutrients are found from a soil test, but the cost to the grower will prevent profitability, other solutions can be explored. For example, a nitrogen stabilizer like N-Edge can help growers to prevent loss of key nutrients like nitrogen to the environment for better land stewardship or a nutrient efficiency product like Trivar can unlock nutrients like phosphorus that may be otherwise unavailable to plants for greater efficiency.
4. Discuss the Importance of Micronutrients
While applied in small amounts, micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients. If soil tests are showing low sample numbers, it is important to talk to growers about plant physiology to determine how and when to apply those nutrients for maximum benefit. For example, zinc is a key micronutrient for corn growth and development. If the goal is 200-bushel corn, it’s typically recommended that one acre will need 1/3 lb. of zinc from seed germination to black layer. Demand for zinc is early on, but also during pollination and grain fill. To balance nutrient supply with demand, multiple applications via a starter fertilizer at the beginning of the season followed by an application later in the season would provide the nutrition the crop will need to thrive when it needs it most.
5. Ask Questions
As you analyze and interpret your growers soil test results this fall, don’t forget to tap into the resources you have available. University researchers, county extension agents, agronomists, and product and technical teams from companies like CHS Agronomy are available to help with the technology, tools, and resources to interpret data, create plans and investigate solutions. Using these valuable resources can help you create meaningful conversations and build relationships with your growers around soil fertility.
To learn more about soil testing, fertilizer recommendations, or products like N-Edge or Trivar, talk to your CHS Agronomy representative or visit the CHS Agronomy website.