By Brian Hefty

At one of our soils clinics last winter, I had a farmer walk up to me during one of our breaks, and here was what he said.  “Brian, I’ve talked to some of your people already, but I just wanted to thank you personally for putting on these Soils Clinics.  Last year I came to a Soils Clinic, learned how to read a soil test, and went right home to compare my tests to what we talked about.  I’ve put a lot of manure on in the past, and I figured out, thanks to you guys, that I needed zero N, P, or K.  The only thing I needed was manganese.  I went to my fertilizer dealer, and guess what they tried to sell me?  MORE N, P, and K!  I couldn’t believe it!  All I put on was manganese, and I had the best yields I ever had.  Where I left untreated strips, that manganese gained me over 30 bushels per acre!  Thank you!”

I’m not going to tell you that every fertilizer dealer is going to try to sell you stuff you don’t need.  In fact, we find the average farmer is underapplying fertilizer rather than overapplying.  I’m also not going to tell you that manganese is a miracle product.  The whole point is if you know how to read your own soil tests, YOU can identify the yield-limiting factors.  For this farmer, it was manganese.  For you, it could be something else.  I want you to ask yourself these 5 questions.

  1. How many dollars do I plan to spend on fertilizer in my next 20 years of farming?
  2. Do I know enough about my soils and my soil tests so I can make my own fertilizer recommendations?
  3. Is my soil testing program good enough to be making correct decisions with fertilizer application?
  4. If I knew more about soils and soil testing, do I think I could better invest my fertilizer dollars to increase my yields and profits?
  5. How long would it take me to learn how to read a soil test and make my own fertilizer recommendations?

Here are the standard answers to the first 4 questions: millions, no, no, and yes.  The good news is the answer to question 5 is just 2 days.  Spend one day with us at a free Ag PhD Soils Clinic, and either attend the Advanced Soils Clinic in Baltic on Feb. 24 or go to a second Soils Clinic to reinforce what you’ve already learned.  If you can read a soil test and make your own fertilizer recommendations, you should be able to save money on fertilizer, put on the right fertilizer products, increase yield, and boost your profits.

Sadly, many farmers think reading a soil test is too complicated, but we can make it really simple for you, and we can help you using your own data.  For today, here’s what I challenge you to do.

  1. Go to
  2. Set up a free account
  3. Set up at least one field on your farm to soil test using 5 acre grids
  4. Download the free Ag PhD Soil Test app for your smartphone.  Android Link.  iOS Link.
  5. Go to the field.  Use the app to find each of the gridpoints you have set up.
  6. Pull 8 soil cores around each gridpoint.  Pull 2 cores from the left side of your vehicle, 2 from behind, 2 from the right, and 2 from in front.  Put all those cores into a sample bag.
  7. Submit each of your sample bags to Midwest Labs.  You’ll get your results in a week or less.  Your cost will be $5.20 per acre, which amounts to $26 per sample, the same as Midwest Labs normal rate.

When you come to a Soils Clinic this winter, we will have dozens of agronomists who will be able to go through your results with you.  Darren and I will show you, step by step, how to read your soil samples, also.  We will then teach you how to make your own recommendations.

If you have any questions about any of this, please contact us.  Our goal at Ag PhD is always to help you do more on your farm so you can increase your profit.  Let me also leave you with this.  If you are going to invest millions of dollars in something over the next 20 years, isn’t that something you should be an expert in?