You may be wondering, “What is the importance of testing my soil?”. Crops require a specific soil pH range and nutrient levels to grow properly, and produce optimum yields. Crops take up soil nutrients at different rates and it is important to know if nutrients are being depleted or building up in your soil. Testing your soil once every three years allows you to monitor these changes and be more efficient with fertilizer, lime and manure applications, which in the long run will save you money.
When collecting your samples, keep in mind the analysis provided by the lab is only as good as the soil samples that you collect. You can group fields together, but the grouped fields should have the same management (crop, fertilizer and manure applications) for at least the past two years. Fields that are grouped together should also have similar soil properties (drainage class, texture, color, etc) and one sample should not represent more than 20 acres. Furthermore, soil samples should only be collected to plow depth (approximately six to nine inches). If soil samples are collected too deep, recommendations from the lab for lime and fertilizer will be much higher than needed, resulting in extra unnecessary costs. By ensuring that samples are collected correctly you can ensure that your analysis will be a good representation of your soil.
To assist farmers with their soil testing needs, the Fulton County Conservation District provides soil test kits to farmers in the county at no cost. Additionally, farmers outside the county can stop by their local Penn State Extension office to purchase a test kit for $9. The basic soil test provides information about soil pH, acidity, Mehlich 3 extractable P, Ca, Mg, K, Zn, Cu, S and cation exchange capacity. Recommendations are made by the lab for fertilizer applications and liming amendments based on information about the planned crop rotation, expected yields and soil test results. Knowing the status of your soil can save you money, but if samples are collected incorrectly results will not accurately represent your soil leading to a below optimum crop yields or wasted money in soil amendments.
See the links below for more information about properly collecting soil samples, provided through Penn State Extension. If you have additional questions please contact our Ag Specialist, Shannon Wray, at 717-325-6089. We can assist you with all your soil sampling needs.
Information to properly collect a soil sample:
Penn State Extension Soil Sampling Video
Soil Sampling Instruction Handout