Plant tissue testing continues to grow in popularity as growers and crop advisors work to fine-tune their fertility programs. With the ever-increasing costs of inputs, it is important to identify which ones are necessary and which ones work. Plant tissue analysis can help in several ways. It can potentially identify a nutrient deficiency prior to the development of visual symptoms. It can be used as a general monitoring of an overall fertility program. It can be used as a comparison between areas of a field that are obviously performing differently. Whatever the reason for collecting a plant tissue sample may be, it is critical to get a good quality sample to the laboratory. Here are some tips to help ensure that you receive reliable data back from the laboratory.
- Be sure to correctly identify the growth stage of the crop. There are numerous guides and diagrams available from university extension programs as well as commercial companies. Compile a small library for the crops that you routinely scout.
- Collect the proper plant part for the current growth stage. For the common row crops in our region, the proper plant part to sample changes throughout the growing season. Failure to submit the correct plant part will result in erroneous sufficiency ratings.
- Never send plants with the roots still attached. Early season plant samples often call for collecting the “whole plant”. This means the above ground portion. Plant should be cut off about ½ inch above the soil surface. Including the root material will result in contamination of the sample with soil primarily impacting the iron and aluminum levels in the results.
- Package your sample correctly. Always pack plant samples in paper bags. If you do not have the sample bags provided by the lab, brown paper lunch sized bags work as well. Do not use plastic bags for plant samples. Plastic bags seal in the moisture and speed up the decomposition of the plant material.
- When shipping multiple samples in a box make sure that the sample bags are secured so the samples do not dump out of the bag and do not over fill the shipping box. Stuffing too many plant samples into a box will also speed up the decomposition.
- Avoid shipping plant samples over the weekend, especially a holiday weekend. Packages shipped over the weekend are generally stored in trailers. During the heat of summer this could be detrimental to plant samples.
- Ideally plant samples are collected and shipped to the lab on the same day and only spend one or two days in transit. This is not always possible due to logistics and the weather. If necessary, let the plant material start to dry out. Spread the plant material out in a dry location and let it begin to airdry then repackage the sample and send it to the lab when it is convenient. All nutrient analysis is done on dried plant material. Starting the process will not impact your results.
If you have any questions or concerns about plant sample collection or shipping process, please do not hesitate to contact us. The customer service and agronomy staff will be more than happy to assist.