The soil test results have arrived

The best results are only as good as the plans you implement to deal with them

Complete tasks as you think of them. I can’t stress this enough. You see, there’s this rock. It’s big. And it’s sitting along the western edge of the pastureland I broke last fall. I nicked it with the Wishek disc I rented in October to mince the sod. I should have dealt with it then. The backhoe was just there, digging out what the landowner and I thought were all the rocks that could possible interfere with tillage. It would have been a simple text to get the operator back to deal with it.

Instead, this rock plagues me. I can’t deal with it now. Snow and frost are making sure of that. It’ll have to wait until spring. I went over the land twice with the disc, and I left it looking more like cropland than pasture. But, judged as cropland, it was rough when I put it to bed.

It’s one thing to till pastureland, but it’s another thing entirely to have the results of the soil tests you commissioned waiting for you in your inbox, and in that brown package on your coffee table, and in the flash drive KR Crop Check sent.

As if knowing I would avoid the information, they sent it in every available medium. They were right. I resisted opening that package, email, folder, for a long time, fearing that the money I had already spent on prepping the land in fall would be peanuts compared to the amount of inputs the soil would require to grow a crop.

The crop advisor I dealt with on this project used satellite imagery and provincial soil maps to provide a brief, unofficial summary of the land, highlighting heavy texture areas, various soil classes, clay loom areas, areas requiring drainage work and some sandy loom areas.

It was a place to start. For the company, it provided a guide for the different areas they would need to pull tests from in order to understand the soil and its nutrient needs over the entire 120 acres. The summary also provided me with a list of terms to research. That’s how we learn, right?

We moved to the farm in August, 2012. It’s been a steep learning curve since then, and now, with my own land to tend, the lessons still have to do with the mechanics of actually getting out there and farming, but with the added layer of soil science, soil health, and understanding what conditions specific plants need to reach their full potential. It’s at this stage I get nervous. This is the real stuff of agriculture.

The advisor said that a soil test is only as good as the plan behind it, so we came up with a plan that began with considering the land’s agricultural history, then went on to included analysis of the soil taken from various, geo-tagged locations in the various zones highlighted in summary, so the company can take samples from the same location in subsequent years.

Money is a factor. Rent, seed, tillage, and backhoe fees on land that has yet to produce anything for me have tampered with my budget. That’s to be expected, and I’m not looking for a shoulder. Some good news would be nice, though.

I opened the PDF, passed it among smarter farmers than myself, and waiting for their responses. “Wow. This is much better than I expected,” said one. Others had similar responses.

After sitting as pastureland for more than two decades, on the 40-acre field, 10 pounds per acre of broadcasted sulphur is recommended to reach a soybean yield goal of 50 bushels per acres. And on the 80-acre patch, 58 lbs. of potassium/acre, broadcast, is recommended to reach the yield goal.

The results were comprehensive. It was an impressive snapshot of the land I will be farming. Salinity was a fear going into this. While working the land, large areas of newly turned up soil were covered in white spots. We took that to be salt deposits, hoping of course it wasn’t, but unable to imagine what else it could be. It’s calcium, it turns out.

I also spoke with the crop advisor about the other 110 acres I rent, asking him specifically if it could go without fertilizer for one year. I’m guessing he’d hesitate to go on record as saying yes, and he didn’t say a definitive yes. But he did provide me with interesting historical information about the nutrient store land in that area likely has.

Pick an analogy — tank of gas or glass of water. Fall or spring fertilization is routine for many farmers. If you want to grow that, this is what you do, always and forever. Did you know that in many cases, your soil will have plenty of what’s needed to grow the crops you want to grow? Not always. We can all think of contrasting examples, but in some cases, the things we put into the ground every year is merely topping up a nearly full tank or glass.

The rock continues to taunt me. I should have dealt with it months ago, and I should have looked at the soil results immediately. The soil looks good, there was nothing to fear there, and I’m telling myself the rock won’t be a boulder and it won’t be a big deal to dig out.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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