Analysis of Soil Tests: Nutrients and Soil Properties to Help Farmers Improve Management Practices
Motley, Natalie M.
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Soil nutrients and properties are the foundation of plant growth and our health. The basis of our soil starts with its texture. Soil texture impacts infiltration rate and cation exchange capacity; which in turn affects water and nutrient availability in plants. Analysis of soil nutrients and properties is imperative for effectively managing adequate soil levels and helping prevent excessive amounts of fertilizer applications. While research studies were conducted to analyze specific nutrients, these studies do not provide farmers the importance of certain nutrients and soil testing on specific farmland parcels. This research study identified soil texture for three parcels of farmland in Dewitt County, Illinois, described soil sampling methodology used, and trends of periodic testing results. Analysis of the soil testing results was compared to recommended optimal soil test values. Key nutrients that were analyzed were phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, as well as pH and organic matter content. Management practices were also assessed. Most test results identified nutrients within the optimum values. Where there were slight variations, effective management of fertilizer applications were applied. Variable rate technology was used to spread fertilizers specifically to field locations in need. Management practices, including crop rotation, were used and based on soil test results, farmers were able to maintain a critical balance of adequate soil nutrients. Further, based on pH soil test results, farmers applied a liming program to regain optimal pH levels for annual crop production. While the organic matter content on one of the three parcels had declined below the Illinois average level, the other two parcels remained within the average range. Maintaining soil nutrient levels through periodic and consistent soil testing is paramount to help farmers more efficiently use limited resources for protecting the soil quality for future generations.