One of the most overlooked management practices for vegetable and specialty crop producers is also one of the most essential this time of year.
Soil sampling can save producers money by providing valuable information about the nutrient content in their soils. It is a more efficient means of preparing for the upcoming season instead of just guessing, said Joe Kemble, Alabama Extension vegetable specialist.
“Right now, fertilizer costs are high. You really don’t need to use anymore than you have to. That’s the key of getting a soil test done,” Kemble said. “Plus, it will also give you a lime recommendation. Ideally, we try to lime a few months ahead of time before we put a crop out. Some lime is better than no lime, even if it’s not timely. Adjusting your soil’s pH, getting out your fertilizers, based on your soils test, I think that’s an excellent thing to do while you’re waiting for your fields to dry off.”
Sample Boxes Available
Kemble said there are sample boxes available in Alabama and provides instructions on how to properly take a sample. Producers can also search Alabama Extension for additional information that specify what is needed to take a soil sample.
“It is easily the most overlooked agronomic practice that I run into. The reason I know that is because I see it on the other side. A grower calls me up and says, ‘I’ve got a problem.’ Normally, the very first thing I ask them for is a copy of their soil test because that’s going to help me rule out some things,” Kemble said.
“Unfortunately, in Alabama, a lot of soils tend to become more acidic over time. The pH keeps going down and down and down. You can get into a situation where you’re not getting the yields you used to get, and you keep putting more and more fertilizer out and not getting the yields you think you should get. It could be tied to soil pH.”
Growers can also request multiple results for the same acre if they want to grow different crops. The sample will yield data relevant to growing tomatoes and a cucurbit, for example.
It is a cheap method to utilize compared to the high cost of fertilizers and takes the guesswork out of the equation.
“Normally, you’re going to be sampling, based on the size of the field; from a handful of samples to a couple of dozen depending on how big your area is. You mark it based on the area and the crop that you want to grow. The sample goes off to the lab, and it gets analyzed,” Kemble said.
“You’ll get the results based on the particular crop you want to grow. It’ll say where your nutrients are at in the soil based on the availability within the soil for the specific crops that you want to grow.”