By Brian Hefty

One of the turning points when it comes to yield and profitability on our farm was when we started regularly soil testing. Prior to about 10 or 15 years ago, we rarely tested our soil. The old philosophy was, “If we over-do it on P & K, it will just be there for next year. With N, we probably always need more, and with micronutrients, let’s just throw a low rate of a blend out there every year.”

Once we started soil testing on a regular basis, we identified different yield limiting factors across our farm. Some areas were way lower in soil pH than we thought, meaning we were giving up as much as 40% of our yield before the season ever started. We also had some high pH spots between 8 and 8.5 that desperately needed tile and elemental sulfur. Not only did we find a few micronutrients ridiculously deficient, they were so bad that we had to invest $20 to $30 per acre just to get them up to the “sufficient to low” category. There wasn’t a single acre on our 2800 acre farm where we were doing it “right”. To some degree, it was disheartening.

In the last 5 years, we’ve gone to annual soil testing, smaller grids or zones, and more of a willingness to spend what the soil test calls for. Because of all that, we’ve seen far better soil health and dramatically higher yields. Sure, we’ve invested some money, but our crops have performed well, and our soil is far better set up for the long-term. Most importantly, we aren’t guessing anymore what our crop needs for fertility. Having data means we are better investing every dollar we put into fertilizer. Plus, we are doing a better job for the soil and for the environment. An excess of any nutrient can hurt your crop (and your ground) almost as bad as a deficiency sometimes.

If you aren’t a big believer in soil testing or are willing to do it but don’t know how to get started, we’ve now got 2 easy ways to help you.

  1. A few years ago we launched the free Ag PhD Soil Test app. From what we understand, this is now the most popular soil testing app in the United States. If you want to use the app to submit soil samples to a lab, for $5.20 per acre on 5-acre grids (that amounts to $26 per sample, which is the same as what you would pay going to Midwest Labs directly), you can get complete soil test results from Midwest Labs. Plus, you get our recommendations and theirs for free. Using the app to sample and the website to work with the information, you can also create your own variable rate application maps. If you haven’t used this system in the past, we highly encourage you to check it out. While you may think we set this up just to help farmers, a big part of this was we wanted a system like this for our own farm. We have used this system so much on our farm in the past few years, and the evidence of its effectiveness is in our yields. We have recently updated the app, along with a little fine-tuning on our recommendations. We have 100% confidence that you will love it!
  2. Here’s a different way to invest $5 per acre. If you would prefer to have someone else do your soil testing and have your fields set up in zones rather than grids, we encourage you to go with Farmers Edge. Farmers Edge will come to your farm and set up an on-farm weather station, as well as canplugs in your equipment to help you track your field activities. They will also do your soil testing for you (all acres in year one and one-third of your acres each year after that) and give you frequent, in-season satellite imagery. Also included in the $5 per acre are other services including benchmarking and yield analysis.

Whether you use the Ag PhD Soil Test app or Farmers Edge, you own the data. Also, your agronomist and Ag PhD don’t have access to the data unless you share it. At Ag PhD, we always have 3 goals. We want to help you increase yield, raise profits, and improve the environment. By the way, I hate the word “sustainability”. I don’t believe we were put here on earth to keep things the same or “sustain” them. I believe our job as farmers and caretakers of the land is to IMPROVE our environment and our crop production. Let’s face it, if we hadn’t been doing that for the last few hundred years, we would have an awful lot of starving people right now.

If you are looking for ways to improve your farm and the environment, I can guarantee you that either of the two options I laid out above will help you. Not only that, but as farmers, the more data we collect and the more precise our farm management becomes, the lower our risk for future regulations. Whichever system you use, please soil test this fall. It will help you in many ways, and it’s a great way to get started in your preparations for 2018.