Over the past 20+ years I have had the opportunity to talk to thousands of farmers across Western Canada and the northern States. One theme is consistent: there is just not enough time to get everything done.
Time is our most precious resource. We cannot make any more of it so we need to get the most of what we are given. (Kinda sounds like rain, don’t it?)
I believe one way to make the best use of time (and rain) on your farm is to have an Agri-Coach implement a Strategic Crop Plan (SCP). This plan for next year’s crop should begin as soon as the combine leaves the field.
Next year’s crop decisions are based on information. One of the cornerstone pieces of information needed is a good soil test.
The conventional thinking has been that we should not perform a soil test until sometime just before freeze-up or when the soils are cool (<50° F or <10° C).
I would suggest something contrary to this philosophy. There are many (and I am one of them) who now believe the advantages to early soil testing far outweigh any negatives.
We are suggesting that soil sampling should begin first thing after harvesting the field. This means that as you pull the combines off the field, you summon the soil testing brigade to begin the work for the next crop.
The advantages to early soil testing are significant.
Firstly, the person doing the sampling is able to truly get a representative sample of the field. Since there is no tillage, you are able to see areas of good growth and are able to avoid areas of poor growth such as saline areas.
Secondly, soil that is undisturbed allows the sampler to take a very accurate core. Tillage fluffs the soil and makes sampling to accurate core depths difficult.
Finally, turnaround time is an issue in the spring. Even with only 2 days in the lab plus transportation time, spring sampling is logistically difficult. However, if a farmer has his Agri-Caoch begin the sampling process when the combines leave the field, he has plenty of time available and the information is sitting on his table when he is ready to begin planning next years crop.
The main reason for not soil testing early has been a concern about the accuracy of the nitrogen test. However, in tests conducted over three years by North Dakota State University and Researchers in Manitoba and North Dakota, there was less than a 10 pound nitrogen fluctuation from September 15th to November 1st.
If soil tests are taken prior to September 15th, your agronomist should reduce your nitrogen requirements by about ? lb. of N per acre per day for samples taken before this date.
The reality is that most numbers do not fluctuate greatly through the fall. There is little change in phosphate, potash, zinc, copper, manganese, iron, magnesium, calcium, cation exchange capacity, base saturation, organic matter or pH from September to November.
In many meetings I have asked, “how many growers apply nitrogen in the fall?” Many put up their hands.
Then I ask how many of them wait for a soil test before they apply nitrogen in the fall. Not many are left with their hands up.
THIS IS THE POINT! Most of us are applying nitrogen blindly anyway, so why not a least have some guideline that comes from an early soil sample. I have been involved in situations where the soil samples were taken October and before the results came back, the grower had applied 70 lbs. of N. When the numbers from the lab came in, turned out 55 lbs. of N would have been plenty.
At Agri-Trend, we strongly encourage growers to get their testing done in the fall.
We also encourage them to get a complete analysis. N, P, K, S alone do not provide a complete picture. Information such as pH, organic matter, cation exchange capacity, base saturation, along with the levels of the other secondary and micronutrients are important if an agronomist is to build a truly complete nutrition plan for your farm.
We also recommend GPS’ed referenced sample points and our standard policy is at least two depths (0-6″ and 6-12″) with many Agri-Coaches also performing a 12-24″ depth for the mobile nutrients.
Once we get the information back we begin to set expectations and goals for next year’s crop with the first phase of the Plan being The 10 Step Soil Interpretation Process™.
So, as Larry the Cable guy would say
, Get’er Done!