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Fall lime applications can help improve soils for the 2021 growing season

Josh Putman, Field Crops and Forage Specialist with the SWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program, shares how fall lime application can help adjust acidic soil pH in preparation for the 2021 growing season.

Fall lime applications can help improve soils for the 2021 growing season, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension officials, while addressing soil deficiencies in the fall can prepare a field to be more productive in the spring.

Managing fertility is one part of soil management, which involves proper tillage practices, crop rotation, cover crops, water management, lime application and weed management. Soil sampling is an important tool used to understand the nutrient content of agricultural ground. Testing soils in the fall can help identify nutrient imbalances and allows time to address them prior to the next growing season. Once soils are tested and results are received, the next step to amending soil is through lime applications.

Soil pH is an indication of how acidic or basic your soils are. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with pH 7 being the neutral point. Many of the crops grown in Southwest NY prefer a soil pH of 6.0-7.0, however, pH values less than 6.0 are often observed in agricultural fields. Grass crops, such as corn and wheat, can tolerate acidic soils better than our leguminous crops like alfalfa and clover species. Lime requirements for pastures depend on the species in the pasture. Many of our New York pastures consist of clover-grass mixes which will benefit from lime application if the pH is less than 6.2. As the soil becomes more acidic, nutrients like phosphorus become less available for plant use. Other elements, like aluminum and iron, can become more available to the plant and may actually become toxic, reducing crop yields. Applying lime to increase the pH of acidic soils can be economically advantageous when proper management guidelines are followed.

In New York, the most common liming materials are calcite lime and dolomite lime, which are ground limestone. Both can correct soil acidity, however, calcite lime contains 1-6% magnesium whereas dolomite lime contains greater than 6%. This means that dolomite lime can neutralize more soil acid ton for ton than calcite lime. It’s simply more potent. Other less common liming materials, like burned lime and hydrated lime, are much more powerful and can raise soil pH beyond the targeted pH. Additionally, they can be difficult to handle and can vary greatly in quality.

Fall application of lime is a preferred time in most areas of Western New York as it reduces opportunities for compaction and interference with spring planting. In addition, this allows time for the lime to react with the soil and help neutralize the soil acidity. It is important to monitor soil pH on a regular basis for optimum crop yields. Further information about soil pH, lime, and liming materials can be found in “Lime Guidelines for Field Crops in New York” written by Ketterings et al. 2006. For more information, contact Josh Putman at jap473@cornell.edu or 490-5572. Amy Barkley, livestock and beginning farm specialist, can be reached at amb544@cornell.edu or 640-0844 for more information about pasture health and management.

The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program is the newest Cornell Cooperative Extension regional program and covers Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben counties. The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops regional specialists work with Cornell faculty and Extension educators to address the issues that influence the agricultural industry in New York by offering educational programming and research based information to agricultural producers, growers, and agribusinesses in the Southwestern New York Region. Cornell Cooperative Extension is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.

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