BY CARLA VAUGHT – COUNTY EXTENSION AGENT
Whether you are a full-time farmer, a part-time farmer, or even a backyard gardener there are a lot of things you can be doing to prepare for spring and improve your efficiency with your enterprise. One of the most basic and most important practices is soil testing.
December is the perfect time for soil sampling. The Soil Diagnostic Lab in never as busy in the winter as it is during the other seasons. This is a perfect time for you to take soil samples and submit them to our office. This will allow you to make decisions on soil amendments before the spring growing season gets here.
Soil sampling is not difficult but you do need to do it properly to get the right results. Soil testing consists of providing a sample of soil representing a given area of growing space. It may be a raised bed, a pasture, the hay meadow, the garden spot, or even a lawn or orchard. If you were to go into your area and only take one sample to represent the entire area, you could easily get bad results. What if you randomly chose the spot where some kind of fertilizer was applied at some point? Or where some natural organic matter decomposed? The idea is to take a lot of subsamples from all over the area and mix them together to adequately represent that area. Soil probes are available to borrow from the Extension office or you can use your trusty spade or sharpshooter and a bucket. Take as many different subsamples from across the area as possible. Drop each subsample into your bucket. When you have zigzagged randomly across the area and feel like you have subsamples from the entire test site, mix the soil in the bucket really well and save a pint sample to submit to the lab. Be sure to label your sample with a name you will easily recognize on the soil test report. Bring your air-dried soil to the Extension office so that we can prepare and send it to the lab. Do not dry the soil with any artificial methods but it does need to be fairly dry or it will melt the shipping box we send it in. Air-drying works great.
Once you get to the office with your sample, you will be asked several questions. We need to know what you are growing on it now, what you want to grow on it, how many acres it represents, and when (if ever) did you put agricultural lime on it. Once we get the questions answered, we will prepare it for its trip to the lab at Marianna, Arkansas. Soil tests are mailed a minimum of once a week. Once the lab receives your soil, it will go through the testing process. Based on what you said you wanted to grow, a computer generated report will be provided to you. The test report gives the amount of plant nutrients available in the sample you submitted. It gives the amount of phosphorus and potassium present in the soil and an estimation of the nitrogen that will be needed for the crop you will be growing. It also gives the pH of the soil and whether that pH needs to be raised with agriculture lime or lowered with sulfur. It also gives a reading on several of the micronutrients and minerals present in the soil.
The best part of soil testing? It costs you nothing! The U of A Soil Testing lab is supported by a tax on bulk fertilizers. At this point, enough revenue is generated to fund the lab and provide the U of A Soil Testing program to Arkansas residents free of charge. Take advantage of this! It is one of the most effective management tools available to agriculture producers of all levels.
If you have questions about this program or would like help with any agriculture enterprise, contact the County Extension Office at 211 DeQueen Street in Mena. Our phone number is 479-394-6018.