Editor's Note: Over the course of the next couple of months, we will be sharing an inside look at the processes which are used to turn a soil sample into useful and accurate data. We realize that by sending samples to us, our customers are putting their trust in us to deliver the right results, every time, on time. We strive to be a company built on integrity and partnership with our customers. We believe that it is important to be transparent with our process so our customers can be ensured that we do not cut corners. We realize that time is of the essence when it comes to getting results, but we will not report any data until we are confident that it was analyzed correctly. We do not want our laboratory to be a “magic black box” that takes in samples and spits out numbers. We are a company with a passion and understanding of agriculture. We understand what our customers are trying to achieve in the field, we hope this inside look provides a better understanding of our commitment to quality analyses.
From the moment a soil sample arrives at the lab for a routine analysis, the whole process takes about 48 hours. This process is spread over 3 business days.
Day 1 for most soil samples begins at about 9:30 am when UPS brings the daily delivery. As the boxes are unloaded, the “layout” process begins. We group all boxes from each customer together to minimize the need to locate multiple boxes that contain a single set or field of samples. Each box is opened and the submittal form is located. The technician first checks which analysis is to be completed on the samples and moves any samples requiring non-routine analysis to another area for special handling. The routine samples are then unpacked and organized per the order specified on the submittal form. If any samples are missing, or the analysis package is not clearly indicated, the set of samples is set aside until our customer service representatives contact the customer for clarification or instructions on how to proceed. We will not begin any analysis until we are positive the customer is getting what they expect.
Once the samples are organized, the submittal forms are then sent to the office in the same order in which the samples were laid out to be logged into our computer system. The logging process starts with “stamping”. Stamping assigns a unique lab number to each sample. Each sample ID on the submittal form is manually stamped with an automatically advancing numbering machine. Information on the stamped submittal forms is then entered in to our database which ties together the lab number, sample ID, grower name, farm name, field name, and analysis package. After all the submittal forms have been entered for the day, the information is compiled into summary sheets called bench sheets which will be used on day 2 by the chemists and technicians as instructions on how each sample is to be analyzed. Some samples may need only one analysis while others may require 10 or more.While the sample submittal form information is being entered, work continues in the layout room. After the samples have been arranged according to the submittal form and double checked, the samples are transferred from the shipping bags to drying bags. The drying bags are arranged on sections of wire shelving which fit onto carts capable of holding 200 samples. The combination of the paper drying bags and wire shelving helps speed up the drying process. The loaded carts are transferred from the layout room into our state-of-the-art soil drier. In adherence to standardized soil analysis methods, the soils are dried at a temperature of 104⁰ F or less. Our custom-designed drier can maintain this temperature as well as maintain a relative humidity in the single digits by cycling the air through the drying chamber several times per minute. Day one comes to a close and the samples spend the night in the drier so they will be ready for day 2.