Expert: It’s not too late for soil sampling
Johnson says results could help with in-season management
MANSON — Soil sampling may not be always be on a producer’s mind as they are gearing up to hit the fields, but if that still needs done it’s not too late to get those fertility levels checked.
“Sometimes soil sampling isn’t always in the forefront of their thoughts,” Brent Johnson, owner of Labre Crop Consulting located near Manson, said.
Johnson said if this has been the case, it’s not too late to for fields to be soil sampled to check those phosphorus, potassium and other fertility levels.
“There are a lot of benefits for soil sampling in the spring,” Johnson said. “We have the time now in the spring and summer to help avoid the fall rush and start making fertility plans.”
One aspect that isn’t widely discussed is that spring soil sampling can give the team at Labre Crop Consulting and the producer the ability to manage some of those circumstances that can happen in-season.
“If we have standability issues, if we need to consider things like side-dressing with a wet spring, and if we do have any of those issues, we have the spring soil samples so we know how much phosphorus and potassium is there. We know how much organic matter is there and that will help us manage some of those in-season inputs that could come up,” Johnson said.
“Not too many think of that side of soil sampling. It seems like there’s always a year where something happens, and we don’t know what that something might be this year.”
On the flip side, Johnson said if the growing season progresses without issue, such as the case the last few seasons, then the soil tests and fertility recommendations are ready for fall and out of the way of what can sometimes be a hectic fall season.
In-season soil testing
Currently, Johnson said the timeline farmers are facing right now is pretty easy for soil sampling.
“We do have plenty of opportunity to get this done yet this spring,” he said.
Once those crops are planted and begin to emerge, soil sampling will take a different turn and they will begin sampling for nitrate levels.
“On the earlier side of June we will be looking more towards nitrate sampling. We want to make sure the corn crop has sufficient nitrogen available and we do this by soil sampling.”
Johnson said when sampling the soils for nitrate levels, on a 30-inch row, for example, they will take two core samples 16 times across the row.
“This is done on the early side of June, so if we need to come in and rectify the situation we have the time physically to get in there. But also, the corn plant is just starting to ramp up its nitrogen uptake at that stage of its life cycle, so that’s at about 12 inches high and the corn plant is starting to accumulate nitrogen at an increased rate, so you got to make sure you have it there at the right time,” Johnson said.
As the corn crop gets set in the middle part of July, focus will change from cornfields to soybean fields when they then offer more crop scouting services.
“We’ll start paying attention if aphids start coming, monitoring for SDS and other soybean diseases,” he said. “With soybeans, you can treat in-season better. They manage their yield at the end of the season, basically while a corn plant manages its yield at the front-end of the season, so we pay attention to corn first and pay attention to soybeans later, typically.”
Typically, soil testing is done for fertility reasons, according to Johnson, such as looking at phosphorus, potassium, pH, organic matter and other micronutrient levels as the producer requests. And, because of the complexity of soils, they are available to help guide them towards making those decisions on what their soils should be sampled for and later on guide them through their recommendation process.
“Mainly, producers understand fertilizer is a good thing; the deeper knowledge of soil fertility is not something most producers understand so they look for guidance from us,” he said. “Maybe they can describe a problem that they have that they think might be fertility-related and we can help them decipher if it is that or another stress that has shown up in their crop.”
The last few growing seasons have brought some large returns in yields. Johnson said it is important to ensure those soils haven’t been depleted of fertility because of it.
“The last couple of years we have had tremendous yields, so we need to make sure our fertility levels haven’t dropped too much and we have actually seen a little bit of that, which is usually an unusual situation,” he said. “There’s usually plenty of fertility out there, but we have noticed some of our results tugging on those field’s fertility levels.”
Johnson said there have been some conversations about farming economics lower than just a couple of years ago.
“And some are still running many times in a negative cash flow scenario; soil sampling and fertility management is a really good way to help work towards profitability,” he said. “Sixty percent of yields are determined by fertility, so if we can manage that major input and maximize yield efficiency for that producer and make him the most money as possible, then we’ve done our job.”
He added, “As a company here, we don’t sell any inputs, we don’t sell fertilizer. It’s our company’s goal to make sure that producer is as profitable as possible. Every situation is different.”