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Hay land soil testing - "WHY" it is important

Submitted by Garrett Rockafellow CCA, AIT

As an agronomist, I have heard the following:

· Why soil test?

· Do I gain any benefit in doing a soil test?

· It is too expensive.

· I’ve been doing the same thing and it’s been working for years!

Very rarely, does a producer truly know what is going on in the soil beneath them. As a farmer, we all know where our best ground is or what areas of a field produce the greatest yield but can a producer often explain why?

Soil testing is a basic tool that helps give a snip it of what is actually happening in our soils and what sort of condition they are in. It gives us vital information such as nutrient load, electrical conductivity, organic matter, cation exchange capacity, and a number of other indicators which determine soil health and what we can do to improve the next year’s crop potential.

Crop fertility is the corner stone to a healthy and successful hay stand, and if neglected, this can lead to rapid depletion of soil nutrients which snow balls into poor crop quality and decreased yield. For this reason, a producer should be looking at soil sampling years before a forage stand is established in a field. Plan on soil sampling a parcel annually while creating a fertility plan to try and build phosphorous and potassium levels prior to seeding a forage so that the draw down of these nutrients does not leave a soil severely depleted, thereby limiting crop production once a stand is taken out of production.

A soil test prior to seeding will provide valuable information which may solidify concerns regarding a field such as a nutrient deficiency, low Ph, or high levels of electrical conductivity (EC) that may impact the success of the forage varieties being selected. By evaluating a soil test and making informed decisions, a producer can select the appropriate varieties that will make a fit the challenges and dynamics of the field.

Once a soil test is completed with the correct forage plan developed and varieties selected for a field, it is important to understand what the fertility needs are annually for the plant stand to continue plant health and productivity. Often producers make the mistake of only applying straight urea, allowing other nutrients to be drawn down and increase the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies forming in that field thereby limiting hay production.

Improper fertilization of the plant stand can result in loss of grad and/or forage yield as well, which has an impact on the bottom line on your business. Excess or lack of nutrients not only affect soil health but are costly to the producer. To ensure you are feeding the plant stand, invest in a yearly soil test and go through the analysis with an agronomist to ensure you are putting together a fertility plan to meet your potential forage targets.

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