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PFR Report

Counting Macros

Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

No, this isn’t an article about healthy food choices to lower your cholesterol, control high blood pressure, or to set a calorie goal.

However, feeding a crop and managing its diet is just as important as feeding our own families and making sure they are healthy. Just because my corn looks fine, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has everything it needs to grow strong and healthy. So, how does soil fertility play into the health and well-being of the crops we grow?

The most important thing when it comes to understanding what you need for your crop is knowing what you already have. Soil sampling has consistently proven to be a worthwhile investment for farming operations, regardless of how big or small the farm. Currently, the common practice is to take soil samples from a 1 to 2.5-acre grid, but many operations still sample by zones.

Sampling in zones can be productive if your methodology is rooted in a tangible and calculable factor such as yield maps, soil EC, and/or topography and landscape. When sampling in small grids, we can understand variability within the field. This allows us to make better fertility recommendations for the crops we grow. Knowing where the variability is will help us place the right amount of fertilizer in the right place.

Because our soils are variable, moving from 10-acre grids to 1-acre grids really tightens up the resolution we see when looking at a soil test map. This provides us a much better understanding of where the nutrients are across that field. But what if I told you that soil variability is much higher than what is even accounted for in a 1-acre grid?

The chart below was derived from a small soil test study that looked at lime and gypsum applications before either of the soil amendment products were applied. Notice that there is a 51 ppm (102 lb./A.) difference in soil test K between two of the sample areas.

Here is the kicker: these samples were pulled just three feet apart. It is important to note that while taking samples on a 1 m2 meter grid system is not economical on a large-scale production field, the findings from this small study were very interesting. With new soil sensing technologies currently on the market, we can better manage fertility in our fields, but it will still require going out in the field and proofing with soil samples. Additionally, taking samples on a 1 to 2.5-acre grid system has shown to be the most economical, while also giving us the highest resolution of what our soils actually look like from a fertility standpoint.

By having a soil sampling strategy in place, we can stick to our plan and have a better foothold on creating another successful season. Substantial yield variability in a single field, like we saw in 2018, is a great opportunity to reevaluate your fertility plans and adjust accordingly. Utilizing yield maps to make variable rate fertility recommendations is a great place to start when optimizing your cost/A. to ensure you are applying what you need where you need it. One tool that can help you do that is Beck’s precision farming software, FARMserver®. Having recently partnered with Soil Test Pro, FARMserver users can now easily pull soil samples and connect the data to their FARMserver account. This integration can be helpful when making recommendations based off yield maps and soil test data in the Management Zone Creation Tool. You can learn more about the new Soil Test Pro integration and all the other great features in FARMserver by clicking here.

Every field is different and every management style is different, so finding the right combination of soil fertility management and budget management is crucial.

Miles McGovney | PFR Agronomist and Operator

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Jim Schwartz

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