By Brian Hefty

I hate expenses, but I love good investments. Is the fertilizer you will apply this fall or next spring an expense or an investment? Without a good soil test, your answer is simply a guess.

Back 20 years ago on our farm, we did zero soil testing. None. Today, I can’t imagine not testing every field every year. Here’s the number one reason why: profit. There were a couple years in a row, about 20 years ago, where my dad, my brother, and I sat in our office and asked each other, “Why do you think our yields weren’t higher?” The unanimous guess in corn was, “We must need more nitrogen!” Guess what? We spent more money on nitrogen, and we gained no yield. To me, there’s nothing worse than spending money and getting absolutely nothing back on it, and we did that year after year.

Today, we pull complete soil tests so we know how best to invest our fertilizer dollars. For example, this year we had some fields that were loaded with phosphorus, so we applied none. Instead, we spent our money on potassium and micronutrients.

Here’s the net result of all this. Our yields have almost doubled in both corn and soybeans in the last 20 years, and my new goal is 300 bushel corn and 100 bushel soybeans 5 years from now as a farm average. I believe fertility is the key. Will we get to 300 & 100? I don’t know, but we are 75% of the way there right now, and I think we can do it.

If you aren’t a regular soil tester or if you have someone pull composite samples, here are two easy ways to get started with this program.

  1. Use the new Ag PhD Soils App. You can pull your own soil samples with this for free. Your only cost is $5.20 per acre on a 5-acre grid, which amounts to $26 per sample. That’s the same as you would normally pay for a complete soil test at Midwest Labs, where you will send these samples to. Why use the Ag PhD Soils App? You get Midwest Labs recommendations and Ag PhD recommendations. You get a complete soil test. You can also use your phone for free with the app to go to your grid points to sample or at any time throughout the year. Best of all, you can use the website to look at your data in a convenient fashion or use that data to make variable rate fertilizer application maps. This is an incredibly powerful, free app and website!
  2. If you would rather have someone else pull samples for you, don’t have your fertilizer dealer do it. Our advice is to call Farmers Edge. For $5 per acre, they will set up a weather station on your farm and install can plugs so all your data can be accessed immediately off your planter, sprayer, or tractor. You will also get daily satellite imagery and prescription maps built for you. Plus, they will set up zones, soil sample according to those zones, and provide you with the Midwest Labs complete soil test data. It is a fantastic offer, which is why they have millions of acres now signed up in both Canada and the U.S.

Quit guessing when it comes to your fertilizer choices. If you want higher yields and more profit, it’s not that difficult. Just fine-tune your fertility program using good, complete soil tests, and you will be well on your way.