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Spring Soil Sampling's Overlooked Opportunities

Posted on
April 30, 2019
Buffy Uglow

By: Dustin Sawyer, Agronomy Laboratory Director

Spring is my favorite season. Not because the snow melts, the temperatures warm up, or any of that starry-eyed, “rebirth” stuff (though I guess that stuff is nice). I like spring because I don’t like to be rushed. I prefer to do things slow and easy.

When you run a soil laboratory you live by the seasons, and there are only two: spring and fall. Fall is busiest time (when you don’t sleep or see your family) for soil sampling and there’s an increased sense of urgency as we race to beat the cold temperatures that freeze the ground and work to organize our spring fertility. Spring is a shorter, less-busy sampling season. It isn’t as popular as fall, and I don’t know why. I’ve asked around a bit to try and figure this out and I’ve been met with a lot of “that’s just how we’ve always done it.” I think the mentality of fall sampling has roots in the fertilizer prepayment, but I can’t guarantee that’s the only reason. Perhaps the logic is that if we can determine the fertilizer need in fall, we can get the order placed prior to year-end.

I’ve also heard the concern that spring and fall soil samples will yield different results, but there’s no evidence to support this wives’ tale. Looking at over two million soil samples from our database, I can find no statistical difference between samples collected in each of the two seasons. I think that fall soil sampling has just been the normal procedure for so long that most people don’t really consider another option. That said, spring sampling isn’t just another option, I believe it’s actually the better option.

By now you may be wondering how I seem to be avoiding the rushed, hectic pace of the spring agriculture season. There’s planting to be done and fertilizer to be spread, and it all needs to be done within a specific window of time. The spring season is the craziest season in agriculture – how can I say it’s slow and easy? Here’s the best part about spring soil sampling: it doesn’t follow the same timeline as planting. In fact, the spring soil sampling window extends far beyond planting.

Soil samples can be collected any time post emergence, up to the time that ATV traffic will break the plants, about V3 for both corn and soybeans. That means spring samples can be collected between planting and sidedressing. If you need to sample an alfalfa field, that can be done anytime after cutting, until regrowth is too tall to get through with an ATV.

For many of us, spring sampling is seen as an opportunity to finish up soil sampling that wasn’t completed the previous fall. The stresses and rush of the planting season makes it easy to overlook the real opportunity that it offers: to avoid the fall sampling rush. Sampling post emergence will ensure that an early freeze won’t prevent getting the samples pulled, and can help guard your fertility program from the unpredictability of nature, allowing you to take it slow and easy.

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Rock River Laboratory

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses.  Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.

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