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Soil testing taking place this fall

Amy Barkley, Cornell Cooperative Extension livestock and beginning farm specialist, is pictured with a soil test.

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program highlights the importance of soil sampling to understand the nutrient content of agricultural soils.

Soil testing in fall helps to identify nutrient imbalances and allows time to address them prior to the 2021 growing season.

When a farmer introduces a seed or plant to the soil on a farm or homestead, their desire is to have that seed grow and the plant flourish. For any plant to reach its fullest potential, in addition to having good rainfall and ideal growing temperatures, soil nutrients need to be available in the appropriate quantities. It is difficult to know what nutrients are lacking in the soil just by looking at it. This is where soil testing comes into the picture. Soil testing helps us as farmers and gardeners identify the imbalances that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

A soil testing schedule should be established to help understand nutrient levels and how they change over time. It is recommended to test soils before planting a crop in an area that has not been tested previously. Once there is an understanding of the soil quality and crops have been established, soil tests should be taken every two years if planting annual crops such as corn, soybeans, or vegetable crops, and every three years if the field is planted in a perennial crop such as pasture or fruit trees/bushes. This will allow for the regular identification and correction of nutrient imbalances.

The first step to testing soil is to identify the areas that you want to sample. Each field or garden plot should be sampled individually since management and location can result in varied nutrient levels in the soil. For fields larger than 15 acres, it is recommended that they be split up into multiple sections for sampling. Once the individual areas have been identified, 10-15 soil cores from each should be taken in a random pattern, and then mixed to form one sample, which will be sent to a soil lab. A soil core is a representative slice or tube of soil that has been collected using either a shovel or soil probe. The depth of the soil cores will depend on if the farmer is tilling the soil or not as well as the crop they intend to plant. Remember to remove any plant matter from the soil surface before taking the sample. For more detailed information on how to sample, watch a demonstration video at youtu.be/X2pFw8tqT-8

Once core samples are taken, prepare them according to the instructions from the soil testing lab. The most commonly used soil testing lab in the state is Dairy-One, but farmers can contact a local crop advisor or extension agent for alternative recommendations. When filling out the submission form, make sure to fill every line out, including the soil type. Soil type is used by the lab to make specific nutrient recommendations for the intended crops. Information on soil type can be found using the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) Web Soil Survey at websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov.

The soil testing lab will return a detailed report. Take time to review current soil nutrient levels as well as the management recommendations.

For more information, contact Amy Barkley, livestock and beginning farm specialist, at amb544@cornell.edu or 640-0844. Questions on liming field crops can be directed to Josh Putman, field crops and forage specialist, at jap473@cornell.edu or 490-5572.

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