With corn harvest wrapping up, producers are now looking to winter wheat. It’s been encouraged for years to have a soil test at least once a year, and in some cases more than one if land is to be double-cropped. Chief of NCDA’s agronomic Division Kent Messick says this is the beginning of the busy time of year for soil testing:
“We are expecting another big year as far as the number of samples that we process. Commodity prices are high so we fully expect there will be great interest in maximizing yield, and soil testing is a critical component of that.”
While samples submitted to the lab in Raleigh before the end of the year usually have a two-week turnaround, many are rethinking the process and suggesting that that a soil test every year might not be that beneficial:
“We think that is true. We don’t actually measure nitrogen in a soil sample to begin with. Everyone is getting a standard nitrogen recommendation for their crop and that is based on what has traditionally needed to be applied on an average year in North Carolina. Phosphorous and potassium levels are the other two things that growers are generally interested in. They just don’t change drastically from one year to another.”
As far as micronutrients, Messick says those deficiencies might be better assessed by tissue samples rather than soil samples:
“Micronutrient levels don’t change drastically. They are something that can be checked during the growing season by taking plant tissue samples. If you have concerns during the season it’s a good idea to take a plant sample and have it tested. That way when you are making your applications you can adjust micronutrient levels at that time.”
Most producers know their soil and see similar test results from year to year, and Messick says if that’s the case, soil sampling may not be necessary:
“Most growers know their fields. They know what has worked for them, the fertilizer and liming history, and what previous levels were. So they can make some very good assumptions and make good choices for nutrient applications.”
To learn more about the soil sampling service offered by North Carolina Department of Agriculture, visit with your local Extension office.
Kent Messick, chief of NCDA’s agronomic division.