Successful farm production starts with healthy soil. The soil is one of the most important farm assets. It provides crops a valuable reservoir of water and nutrients. Each type of soil has its own properties that cannot be changed, such as texture. However, farmers can always improve soil quality by managing the level of nutrients and soil pH. One of the most important factors in managing soil quality is regular soil testing.
Soil testing is a valuable farm practice that determines the exact amount of available crop nutrients in the soil, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, as well as determining soil pH, humus content, available lime, and organic matter. It also provides a visible snapshot of various chemical, physical, and biological soil properties.
Why Is Soil Testing So Important?
Soil testing 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. Additionally, soil testing 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 Testing?
A quality and balanced soil is a crucial factor 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 testing every 3-4 years. However, it would be ideal to practice soil testing as often as possible, especially when growing annual crops in a crop rotation. In that case, it is recommended to take soil testing after every third crop in the rotation.
Other important aspects to consider are the best time of the year to take a testing, 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 testing 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.
Fertilizing crops without knowing their requirements and available soil nutrients is equivalent to driving a car while blindfolded. Therefore, soil testing is the only way to ensure proper soil management and increase a chance for higher yield.