We frequently get the question at the lab; “When is the best time to take a soil sample?” Soil fertility is not static. Soil test levels fluctuate naturally through the year as nutrients are taken up by growing plants and returned from residue. Application of fertilizer, manure or other nutrient sources increases the amount of crop nutrients, causing soil test levels to increase immediately after application. During the growing season, soil test levels will decline as nutrients are taken up by plants. Overall, if the application rate approximates crop needs there will be a minimal effect after nutrients in crop residues or cover crop are returned to the soil through decomposition. To minimize the effects of these processes on soil test levels, it is commonly recommended that soil samples be collected at approximately the same time of year each time a field is sampled to reduce variability introduced by the normal crop growing cycle.
While the results of a single soil test can provide information needed to define the fertility program for a given area for the coming set number of years, the real value comes from looking at the data collected from several sampling events, taken at a similar point during the growing cycle, and identifying the trends in the soil test values. For example, if a soil sample is collected and the resulting data shows a lower than desired fertility level, we may need to apply more fertilizer for the next crop. If soil test values increase toward a target level over sampling cycles, it indicates the fertility program is working as intended. The fertility program would need to be adjusted if soil test levels are trending lower or higher than intended.
Traditionally, fall has been the most popular time within this region to soil sample, with nutrient application made soon after. Fall soil sampling and fertilizer application requires several steps:
With many steps condensed into a short time period and with often less than ideal weather forecasts, things must happen quickly. The soil fertility program is a critical investment that has a major impact on a grower's bottom line, and making decisions related to the program should be done with great care. It is hard to optimize a rushed management decision.More are switching to spring soil sampling to reduce this time crunch. Samples can be collected throughout the spring, even in the planted crop. Soil test data can be processed so that fertilizer and lime applications can occur immediately after harvest. Crop conditions and weather during the growing season can be also evaluated to further refine soil fertility programs. There is considerable value to sampling well ahead of the fertilizer application season, providing time and flexibility to make better fertilizer management and purchasing decisions.
UAN (urea-ammonium-nitrate) solutions are routinely applied in the late spring and early summer to deliver nitrogen (N) to young crops. Because UAN is a nonpressurized solution, it can be used without the hazards associated with anhydrous ammonia and can be spread more uniformly than granular fertilizer. Certain pesticides may also be added, eliminating an extra pass through the field. UAN solutions are usually manufactured with a 32% N analysis, transported nearer the point of use, and then diluted (“cut”) to 28% or 30% N with water or a nutrient rich solution such as ammonium sulfate. The N analysis of UAN solutions is monitored throughout the supply chain to assure quality and consistency. A hydrometer is commonly used to check the N analysis of solutions, estimating the N content by solution density. A hydrometer reading will vary with the temperature of the solution. Nitrogen and density values will differ by source of 32% UAN solution.
The density of a cutting solution should also be considered when making dilutions. The density of ammonium sulfate (AMS) solution is usually higher than water, and can vary by source. For example, if a hydrometer reading is 1.28 g/cc for a UAN solution that was diluted with water to 28% N, diluting the same UAN solution to that density with AMS would result in a product with only 26% N. The UAN density corresponding to a given N content must be adjusted when diluting with a solution other than water. A hydrometer calibration (chart) can be developed using laboratory analyses of N, S and specific gravity on the various solutions (UAN, AMS, etc.) and mixtures that might be used. Once a calibration is developed, hydrometer readings, adjusted for temperature, can approximate the N content of the UAN solution. Periodic laboratory analyses should be performed to update the hydrometer calibration since the density of new UAN and cutting solutions can change.
Lexi is a lab technician in the fertilizer department. In this role, she tests different fertilizers for various elements and creates reports so that our clients can make better decisions about their fertilizer usage. She also does quality analysis for fertilizer companies.
She earned her Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry from Manchester University. She has been full time with us since April 2016. She enjoys working with test tubes and beakers, and really likes the color changes that occur through the different tests she administers. She also likes the family-feel of the culture here.
In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her son who is just shy of 2 years old.
Herbicide resistant weeds are an ever-growing concern in production agriculture. One of the quickest ways to encourage weeds to develop resistance to a herbicide chemistry is to use less than the labeled rates of that herbicide. Knowing this, very few applicators will use less than labeled herbicide rates. However, what if an applicator is effectively applying less than labeled rates unknowingly due to the quality of their spray water?
This University of Florida extension article discusses how spray water chemistry impacts the performance of flumioxazin, a key ingredient in the effective control of herbicide resistant marestail. We offer two spray water analysis packages to help you identify the challenges with your spray water so you to make the most effective applications possible.
Spring tissue sampling of winter wheat can be a very useful management tool. The timing of wheat sampling does not correspond to a specific growth stage though. The important factor when determining the appropriate time to sample wheat is that the wheat has broken dormancy and is actively growing again. Generally, wheat will be at a growth stage of Feekes 3 or 4 when this occurs. The appropriate method for collecting wheat samples at this stage is to collect 25 or more whole plants from ½ inch above the soil surface. One of the benefits of early season wheat sampling is to fine tuning a “green-up” nitrogen applications based on the nitrogen content of the plant at Feekes 5 (please visit the Purdue Extension News Release for more information).
Image: Feekes 5 wheat. Source: Kansas State University
Once the plants reach Feekes 6 and beyond, indicated by stem elongation and jointing, only the most recent fully developed leaf should be sampled. The most recent fully developed leaf is the highest leaf on the plant with a fully developed collar. Once the plant begins heading (Feekes 10 and beyond), the flag leaf should be sampled. Generally, 40 to 50 leaves should be sampled at these growth stages.
Accurate plant tissue testing begins with proper sample collection and handling. Make sure to collect the proper plant part for the current growth stage of the crop, and collect the proper number to make the sample. This information can be found on the plant analysis page at algreatlakes.com. Always avoid soil contamination in your plant samples. Package samples in paper bags. If shipping is delayed, store samples in a cool location, but do not freeze. Never include roots with a plant sample. If you have any questions on proper plant tissue sampling, please contact the lab for assistance.
Compost analysis has become an integral part of our testing business. It is an area that has consistently grown over the years mainly because of the U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program and the fact that compost utilization is increasing as users discover the benefits of composting and using compost.
What is “STA”?
The Seal of Testing Assurance Program is a compost testing, labeling and information disclosure program designed to provide information to compost producers or users so that they can get the maximum benefit from the use of compost. The program was created in 2000 and is the consensus of many of the leading compost research scientists in the United States. A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. has been working with the USCC for many years, and we were one of two independent laboratories who worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the validation of the USCC testing methods.
We are a certifying laboratory for the Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program. We analyze composts from throughout the United States, and have had the opportunity to analyze compost samples from Mexico, Central America, Europe and some Caribbean islands.
What Methods Are Used?
In order to keep quality consistently high, it is important to have standardized test methods that all certifying laboratories adhere to. The United States Composting Councils’ Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Composts (TMECC) are the standard methods used for compost testing in both the United States and Canada and are jointly published by the USDA and the USCC. They were selected to help both compost producer and purchaser to determine if the compost they are considering is suitable for the use that they are planning, and to help them compare various compost products using a testing program that can be performed by a group of independent, certified labs across the country and in Canada. TMECC provides protocols to sample, monitor, and analyze materials at all stages of the composting process.
It is also important to know that although the TMECC methods are primarily what we follow for compost testing, we can also perform some analyses by ASTM methods as well. ASTM methods are often requested by engineering firms, landscape architects etc.
The Compost Analysis Proficiency Testing program (CAP) was initiated to provide the Compost Laboratory Analysis Industry with an inter-laboratory QC program, to develop reference materials, and to measure the performance and reliability of TMECC analytical methods. A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. is a Tier II CAP Program participant analyzing both Inorganic and Biological components 3x/year.
What Is The Process?
Compost manufacturers in the STA program will send our laboratory samples of their compost products based on the volume they produce annually. The laboratory then analyzes the compost for a defined set of tests and produces an analytical report as well as a Compost Technical Data Sheet. The Compost Technical Data Sheet includes directions for product use, a list of product ingredients and analytical test results. It is really advantageous for a compost producer to be able to hand a prospective customer a Technical Data Sheet produced by an independent lab. It really lends validity to the product. Another benefit of the STA program is that the compost producer has the rights to use the STA logo in their marketing or promotional activities. Some may choose to print the logo on a label, marketing materials or display it on their web site.
The STA program has a list of “approved laboratories” on its web site http://compostingcouncil.org/labs/
Did You Know? (For Compost Customers)
For further questions about the STA program, pricing, test packages or requirements, account creation or compost testing in general, contact Greg Neyman (260) 483-4759 email@example.com
Amanda is a Microbiology Lab Technician and conducts testing on compost samples, checking for the level of microbes to make sure they are safe to be sold to the public.
Amanda wanted to be one of two things growing up: a zookeeper or biologist. She spent some time working at a zoo right after earning her degree in biology, but she enjoys the detail and processes involved in lab work.
In her spare time, she likes to be outdoors- hiking, camping and birdwatching.
She likes being a part of our team because it's family oriented, down the earth, and her teammates are not afraid to get dirty (pun intended). "We are also very customer oriented. This is the most customer oriented place I’ve ever worked for. We are all about providing the best service no matter what."
Here at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, we want to know what inspires you. As we reflect on our first 40 years of business, we consider those thing that inspire us; our passion for science, the commitment to our customers, our dedication to agriculture and our small but important role in feeding the world.
Photo Submitted by Adam Farmer
We know that you are inspired to go the extra mile, to work the extra hours, to give a little more for that greater purpose. We would like for you to share a glimpse of that inspiration. We are asking you to share a photo that captures that inspiration. Some of the photos collected will be featured in the 2018 ALGL calendar, on our website, and in other materials. Each person that submits a photo will be entered one time into a drawing for some great prizes, sold and serviced by companies that are driven to be the best, not necessarily the biggest.
The prizes include an Ithaca Gun Company 12ga Shotgun, SK Tools, Ruby Jewelry, A&L Great Lakes apparel, and more to be announced. Full contest details can be found on our website at www.algreatlakes.com.Follow us on Facebook to see the submitted photos and developments in the contest throughout the summer, and please keep the pictures coming in!
Since A&L Great Lakes Laboratories was established forty years ago, providing educational opportunities to our customers and the agricultural industry has been a service that we have been proud to offer. The goal of our workshops is simple: we provide a general overview of fundamental agronomic principles and current university research so our attendees are better able to make nutrient management decisions for their customers or for their own operations. Today’s producers are inundated with information regarding crop inputs and practices. By applying the fundamental principles of agronomy to these inputs and practices, a consultant, agricultural retailer, or producer can evaluate and decide which of those are most applicable for achieving both the short-term and long-term goals of a specific operation.
The workshops are developed and presented by A&L Great Lakes Laboratories’ Agronomy Staff comprised of Certified Crop Advisers, Certified Professional Agronomists, and Certified Professional Soil Scientists whom have a wide range of experience in the agricultural industry.We will be presenting six workshops in February in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. For a complete list of dates and locations, please visit our website.
The 2016 Soil Test Data Summaries for the Great Lakes region are now available on our website. The summaries are compiled for the Great Lakes region as a whole, as well as broken down by state and into geographic quadrants within each state.
The Soil Test Summaries are valuable tools that provide the average soil test levels for a given region, as well as the distribution of soils by rating. This data can be used by growers and advisors alike to identify regions where soil test levels tend to be low or high for a given nutrient, and can allow them to better focus their soil sampling and nutrient management priorities.
A&L Great Lakes has been providing soil test summaries since 1996, and the information provided has been used by countless agricultural professionals ever since.