Your soil has a unique story
It’s often said, the more you know, the better you do. When it comes to your soil, this sentiment could not be more true. Understanding what’s happening beneath all those acres across your farm requires an appreciation for variability at the zonal level in order to maximize the potential from every inch of that soil. It begins with solid soil testing.
If you don’t soil sample, how can you appreciate what’s happening at the root of everything on your farm? Proper zone management must account for variability in texture, organic matter, nutrient content, water holding capacity and compaction, all essential influences in crop nutrient uptake and therefore, crop performance.
Garth Donald, Decisive Farming co-founder and manager of agronomy, says soil sampling is the key to understanding how your soil is currently performing, and which nutrients will be required for optimal plant growth in the upcoming season. This includes understanding residual nutrient levels in order to plan accordingly for next year’s crop nutrients and fertilizer strategy.
Things to consider include the fact that your soil affects the nutrient availability for your plants, the levels of micronutrients to be applied – if in fact needed – and the organic matter levels that impact the overall health of your soil.
To address all these factors, Decisive Farming advocates for yearly soil sampling using GPS referenced points. Donald says an accurate sample requires a minimum of 12 soil cores at two depths. Conducting such complete analysis every year creates a dataset for you to manage your fields with ongoing optimal efficiency.
“We soil test every single year,” says Andrea Bilodeau, Decisive Farming senior agrologist. “And we run a complete analysis every single year including all the macros and all the micros.”
Soil samples can be taken throughout the entire year, but Donald recommends considering the value of the data you’re receiving from soil testing to up your ability to make sound purchasing decisions according to your farm’s unique strategies.
“We know that trial data states the ideal time to sample is when the ground is below 10 degrees Celsius,” he adds. “But, if you want to apply fall fertilizer or prepurchase nutrients, the value of getting soil tested prior to those events occurring has a greater value than waiting for the ideal temperature.”
The Decisive Difference
Gathering all this soil information helps you meet two essential priorities. One, it helps address your financial expectations and two, it balances them with environmental impact to ensure you’re not over or under applying.
“We are feeding the crop that is out there in any given year,” says Bilodeau. “We take last year’s soil test, the variable rate prescription, harvest review insights along with this year’s soil test to give us a wonderful overview to move forward with. It creates this meaningful conversation between Decisive Farming and our farmers about their goals and their strategies for improving on their farms.”
Once you’ve gained all this knowledge about your soil, created sound yield goals, and understand your soil’s fertility needs across all your acres, precision agronomy practices and agtech like variable rate (VR) fertility can be optimized to manage your fields and growth zones for the best return on your investment.
If it sounds like a lot, the 4-Rs of Nutrient Stewardship can serve as a guide to balance out your priorities, decreasing wasteful losses and increasing profitable gains.
Right rate – Match your fertilizer amounts to your crop needs. Bilodeau says this is the foundation of VR technology. “We’re trying to drill down and utilize management zones within the field to ensure we have the most accurate rate throughout as opposed to a full blanket rate.”
Right time – Make nutrients available right when your crops need them. This involves calculating the interplay of crop nutrient uptake and risk of loss, while considering field operation logistics. “We want to put it in at a time where it will most efficiently be used by the crop,” says Bilodeau.
Right place – Keep nutrients right where your crops can use them. This involves analyzing and tracking the interplay between roots and soil to see nutrient movement and mitigating nutrient loss from the field. “It’s a conversation we are having with our farmers all the time,” says Bilodeau. “Are nutrients going down with the seed or are they being broadcast? Are you close to a water source? And, what can all of this mean for your crop’s success?”
Finally, once you get down to it, soil sampling not only looks at the nutrient needs of your field today and tomorrow but can further serve as a diagnostic tool to address problems along the way. Collaboration with an experienced agronomic advisor who can explain the interactions in your soil gives you the ultimate advantage.