Time to think about soil testing

During winter it’s not easy to think about your fertiliser requirements – after all, calving is fast approaching and that’s bound to be top of mind. Yet that imminent busy time is exactly why you should be getting soil testing out of the way now, while there is less pressure.

Establishing a pattern of early-winter soil testing enables you to plan your annual fertiliser applications without the distractions of calving or milking, and it means there is one less thing for you to have to deal with in spring.

Of course, there are some conditions that need to be fulfilled if winter soil testing is going to be successful.

  • The ground has to be in suitable condition for testing – if soil is waterlogged or pugged, then it’s not going to be possible to take samples. If you are on free-draining soils, or you don’t have high winter rainfall, then soil testing should be possible during the cooler months.
  • It needs to be at least three months since you last applied fertiliser or lime, otherwise you will get inaccurate results. Fertiliser or lime residues will skew the results of soil testing, increasing the likelihood that you end up with an inaccurate fertiliser recommendation.
  • If you have a consistent history of soil testing at some other time of the year, then changing to a winter testing might not be for you. Part of the value of regular soil testing is that it builds up a picture of soil nutrient trends over time, allowing you to see trends and respond to them. To get an accurate picture, soil testing should be carried out at the same time each year. Chopping and changing sampling times will add variability into the results, which will again impact the appropriateness of fertiliser recommendations.

Although fertiliser recommendations used to rely on rules of thumb, nowadays the approach is much more scientific, involving the development of farm-specific fertiliser programmes. The first step in this approach is quantifying the nutrients that are already present in the soil, so that the extent of any deficits can be measured, and the only way to achieve this is through soil testing.

With the results of soil testing in hand, you and your fertiliser representative will be able to develop a fertiliser programme that helps you achieve the best economic and agronomic outcomes for your farm.

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