February 28, 2019

Price vs. Value

by Jamie Bultemeier


Selecting the right supplier is a key business decision, regardless of the industry. From major manufacturers to the agricultural producer, supplier selection is a key aspect of running a successful business, and with the current tight margins in agriculture, selecting a quality supplier is especially crucial. Lower revenues often make the lowest cost supplier look very enticing, but before making the purchasing decision, successful business managers must carefully weigh all options to decide what is the best option for his or her business.

The adage of “You get what you pay for” still holds true. We need to keep in mind the magnitude of the supplier decision and the impact to our business. There are a number of factors beyond the price of the product or service we need to consider, such as:


  • Does the supplier’s business reflect your own? If you are selling on value and only look for the lowest cost supplier, this disconnect will be seen by your customer as some point and will diminish your value position.


  • What is the reputation of this supplier? If the reputation of the supplier is questionable, it can reflect on the reputation of your business.


  • What is the quality of the product? Usually if the supplier is significantly cheaper than the rest, there is a reason, and it may negatively impact your customer.


  • Is the product or service consistent? In agriculture, we often compare products or values from year to year. If the results are inconsistent, it may result in your customers questioning your products or services.


  • What if you have a problem with the product or service or need additional support? A good supplier is easy to contact and is responsive to your needs. Many low-cost suppliers cut this overhead first. If you need to get answers for your customer and you are not getting answers yourself, it is your customer (and reputation) at risk, not theirs.


  • Is this supplier flexible? Many low-cost suppliers expect business to be conducted in a specific way, and this may not be compatible with your business and lead to additional costs on your end.



  • Is the supplier offering something for “free”? In business, all expenses have to be absorbed into the price of the product or service, nothing is free. If not reflected directly in the price of the good or service, then it must be accounted for somewhere.


  • How fast can a supplier turn your request into a final deliverable product? If the product is sitting in a warehouse and simply needs shipped, this is not an issue. If the supplier has to build the product or perform a task, you need to know that the product or service will be delivered in a timely (and consistent) fashion.


  • How big of an impact does this product or service have on my profitability? If the potential savings of a supplier’s goods is a small portion of your total cost, the price should have a smaller impact on your discussion. If the product or service has a large impact on either your, or your customers’ profitability, supplier price should be a lesser part of the decision.


As a farmer every year I make a choice on not only what products I want to buy, but also who I want to buy those products from. I can look at a bag of seed as a basic input commodity and look for the cheapest price, or I can choose to realize that there are major differences in those products. Those differences, whether it be in genetics, versatility of the product line, research, and support after the sale from someone that is genuinely interested in my success, all will help me to reach my goals and to make me (and them) more profitable. Choosing a supplier that helps you generate greater revenues is usually more profitable than simply choosing the one offering the lowest cost.
February 28, 2019

Early Spring Wheat Sampling

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 tune a “green-up” nitrogen application 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.

November 30, 2018

It's Tradeshow Season!

Tradeshows offer a great opportunity to get out and talk to many of our customers, as well as to see what is new and exciting in the industry. We attend or exhibit at a number of tradeshows throughout the late fall and winter. Some of our upcoming shows include:


Date Location Tradeshow or Event
Dec. 4-6, 2018 Grand Rapids, MI The Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO 
Jan. 14-16, 2019 Lansing, MI Michigan Agribusiness Association (MABA) Winter Conference and Trade Show
Jan. 15-17, 2019 Madison, WI Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic - Wisconsin Agri-Business Association (WABA)
Jan. 15-17, 2019 Ft. Wayne, IN Fort Wayne Farm Show
Jan. 23-25, 2019 Indianapolis, IN Agribusiness Council of Indiana (ACI) Conference & EXPO
Jan. 28-30, 2019 Peoria, IL Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) Annual Convention and Trade Show
Jan. 28-31, 2019 Phoenix, AZ

Compost 2019 - U.S. Composting Council Conference and Trade Show

Jan 31-Feb. 1, 2019 Columbus, OH

 Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) Industry Conference


Please stop by and say hi!

September 28, 2018

2019 Calendar Photo Contest Winners Announced

Thank you to everyone that shared pictures for the 2019 A&L Great Lakes Customer Calendar, and to those who voted for their favorite on our Facebook site. Last year we were amazed by the quality of the photos we received, and this year that bar was raised even higher! This year we let the people have more of a say in the calendar design and left the winning photo selection to our followers on social media. The task was a difficult one as all of the pictures were incredible in their own way.

We are pleased to announce that Lydia Holste of Altamont, IL was our winner with a photo of a family dinner at harvest time. Lydia will receive $250 for her winning photo.


Second place went to Cary Crop Farms of Mount Pleasant, MI, with a picture of fall harvest. They will receive $150.


Third place was Paige Sullivan from Montgomery, IN, with a picture of a spider web at harvest time. Paige will receive $50.


These pictures and others will be published in the A&L Great Lakes 2019 calendar later this fall.

September 28, 2018

Nutrient Removal in Grain

A good understanding of the amount of plant nutrients removed from the soil in the harvested portion of a crop is an important aspect of nutrient management. While a number of sources provide estimates of the amount of plant nutrients removed with a harvested crop, more precise nutrient removal values can be obtained by analyzing the concentration of nutrients in the crop. This can be done by submitting grain samples for a Crop Nutrient Removal Analysis.

There are several factors that can cause the actual concentration of nutrients in a given crop to vary from the average, including weather conditions, plant genetics, management practices, and soil properties

Nutrient removal analysis is similar to other plant tissue analyses in which the material is dried, ground and digested so that the concentration of various nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and various micronutrients can be determined for the sample. For grain samples, the results are then calculated and expressed as pounds per bushel based on a standard test weight and moisture content for a given crop. As with any other analysis, proper sample collection is crucial. For grain crops, collect a sample of grain that best represents the entire area, and submit 1 to 2 cups to the lab for analysis. Results will be presented on a pound per bushel and pounds per acre basis. The crop removal data can be reported based on the actual crop yield for the sampled area if the yield is provided for the submitted sample.

The utility of this type of analysis is not limited to grain samples. This data can be very useful for determining nutrient removal for other commodities such as fruits, vegetables, hay, straw, and silage. Since harvesting these crops often removes greater amounts of vegetative material and the concentration of nutrients in vegetative parts of a plant can be quite variable, nutrient removal values can differ considerably. To analyze for nutrient removal in these crops, submit 1 to 2 pounds of material for analysis.

Although considerable differences may exist between the results of a specific analysis and the reference values, this data is not intended to assess the fertility status of a crop or diagnose nutrient deficiencies. While nutrient removal data can be a valuable tool for managing soil fertility, it is only one piece of the puzzle. A good routine soil sampling plan remains the basis for a sound soil fertility program.


September 28, 2018

Data Security

Laboratory data is an important and valuable asset. As an independent laboratory, it is important for us to assure our clients that their data remains their property, and that safeguards are in place to prevent information from being released to individuals not entitled to it.

We are occasionally requested by a client to send copies of reports or data files to someone else. We are very happy to do this, but are aware of the importance of this data. Our primary responsibility regarding the confidentiality of our reports is to our client that is invoiced for the services provided. That report may represent samples that were taken for a customer of our client, but the data is still the property of our client, not their customer.

In order to release data to another party, we require approval from an authorized representative of our client. The preferred method is by email or letter, but can be given via phone call if that is the most convenient. We recognize that this might be extra work for you, but we want to ensure that your information is protected.

If data is to be routinely copied to another party, information regarding this can be set up in our client database. If changes in client personnel or addresses occur, we need to be notified so that data is not sent to an incorrect address. Please contact the lab regarding your account if you need to verify or change who is authorized to receive your data.

July 31, 2018

The Basics of Lime Testing

The majority of our soils in the Great Lakes region require regular liming in order to maintain pH levels that are within the appropriate range to maximize crop growth and productivity. The quality and effectiveness of a liming material can vary tremendously depending on the source, composition, and physical properties of the material, so having a reliable lime analysis is critical to ensure that the proper type and quantity of liming material is used to get the desired effect.

Agricultural lime quality is usually measured by three characteristics:

  1. Purity - commonly expressed as calcium carbonate equivalent (CCE)
  1. Particle size – finer particles react more quickly to raise soil pH
  1. Moisture – increases weight of the material without increasing effectiveness, essentially “diluting” the material

A number of materials can be used to increase the pH of the soil, but historically the most common material is ground limestone, commonly referred to as ag lime. Ag lime is finely ground rock containing high levels of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and magnesium carbonate (MgCO3). It is actually the carbonate (CO3-) in lime that reacts with acidity (hydrogen) to increase soil pH.

Calcium and magnesium in lime, in addition to being essential plant nutrients, exchange with hydrogen (H+) held on cation exchange sites, moving H+ into soil solution where it can be neutralized by carbonate.

Particle size determines how quickly lime will dissolve and react in the soil. Generally, 40-50% of the particles in a good quality liming material will pass through a 60-mesh sieve. States in this region have different lime quality systems, with state-specific terminology and measurements.

A&L Great Lakes offers a Fact Sheet, entitled Adjusting Lime Rates, which provides details on how to make adjustments. A & L Great Lakes has also developed a spreadsheet which outlines various states’ systems and helps adjust rates for a particular liming material. These useful tools are available from our website at www.algreatlakes.com.

July 31, 2018

Feeding Drought Stressed Corn to Livestock

The rainfall this summer has been highly variable throughout the region, and some areas have been exceedingly dry, particularly during July. During times of extended drought when corn grain yield potential is severely limited or nonexistent, the plants may still offer a valuable source of nutrients for livestock provided careful attention is given to how it is harvested and fed. Due to the danger of nitrate levels being elevated during periods of drought, the safest option to use the crop as feed is to ensile it.  One-fifth to two-thirds of the nitrate in the plant may be dissipated during the fermentation process, but remember that this process takes up to 21 days to occur.  Nitrate concentration is highest in the lower one-third of the corn stalk.  If the crop is to be cut for use as feed, leave the bottom third of the plants in the field.

If moisture conditions improve and the corn begins to green up and resume growth, nitrate conversion to proteins accelerates rapidly and ultimately will return to normal. DO NOT harvest or graze corn plants for 5 to 7 days after a heavy rain has stimulated renewed growth! When the plant begins to grow again, nitrate levels will increase for a few days, creating very high concentrations in the plant.

If you want to test the crop for the potential of high nitrate, obtain a representative sample of the field by cutting 15 to 20 plants at the height they will be harvested and cut those plants up to resemble a silage sample.  Ship the sample in a paper bag In order to reduce the risk of the sample rotting on the way to the laboratory.  The following interpretive guidelines can be used to assess the test results. More information about nitrate testing for feed can be found in our FactSheet, Nitrate Toxicity in Feed, available on our website.


Nitrate (NO3) in dry matter

Feeding Instructions

(summary from several sources)

0.0 - 0.44 % or 0 - 4,400 ppm

Safe to feed.

0.44 - 0.88 % or 4,400 - 8,800 ppm

Limit to 50% of total dry ration for pregnant animals by either mixing, diluting, or limiting use of forages.

0.88 - 1.50 % or 8,800 - 15,000 ppm

Limit to 25% of total dry ration by mixing, diluting or limiting use of forages. Avoid feeding to pregnant animals.

Over 1.50 % or over 15,000 ppm

TOXIC. Do not feed.

July 31, 2018

Calendar Photo Contest Deadline Extended!

We have extended the deadline to submit photos for the 2019 A&L Great Lakes Labs calendar until August 31. There is still time to get us those great photos!

We want to see pictures that illustrate what fuels your passion for agriculture and customer service. When you get that picture captured, send it to news@algreatlakes.com along with your name and address. Please submit your pictures in the highest resolution possible before August 31st, 2018. In September, we will select our favorite pictures, then we will be letting our followers on Facebook vote on their favorite, to be on the cover of the 2019 calendar. Follow us on Facebook for voting details.


Photo criteria 

  • Landscape oriented photos preferred, but not required.
  • Please share the highest possible resolution photo.
  • Please try to avoid company logos and easily identifiable faces.
  • No dangerous or illegal activities.


  • Photo submission deadline is August 31st, 2018
  • One entry per person, you may submit more than one photo.
  • Must be 18 years or older to enter.
  • Need not be present to win.
  • No purchase necessary.
  • Submitting a photo gives A&L Great Lakes permission to use the photo for promotional use.
  • Employees of A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. and their immediate families are not eligible for prizes, but may submit photos for consideration in the calendar.
  • Use of images in promotional items does not increase your odds of winning a prize.
  • Contest decisions and/or judgements by A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. are final.
June 28, 2018

Understanding Soil Test Phosphorus

Phosphorus (P) is a key nutrient for crop production, and keeping adequate levels of P in the soil is important for maximizing plant growth and development. However, understanding the various analytical methods for determining soil phosphorus can be challenging. The greatest confusion often lies in understanding why there are different analytical methods for determining soil P. The key to understanding this is to differentiate between total, available, and extractable levels of a soil nutrient.

Total P is the total amount of phosphorus in the soil. This can be P contained in organic materials, P in soil solution, exchangeable P, and P contained in insoluble mineral forms, and can be quite high in many soils. This information generally has limited agronomic use, however, because the amount of P that is actually plant available is generally only a small amount of the total P in the soil.
Of much greater benefit from an agricultural perspective is what is referred to as extractable P. Extractable P is the amount of phosphorus that can be extracted, or removed, from the soil by using one of a number of different types of chemical extractants. These extractants have been developed to remove certain forms of P from the soil, and this can be a more accurate index of what might be actually available to a growing crop The ultimate goal of an extractant is to reliably and consistently determine levels of the nutrient that correlate with the amount of that nutrient that might be available to a growing plant.
Bray-Kurtz P1 (Bray P1) has long been utilized in the Great Lakes region as the “standard” P extractant. It was developed in 1945 at the University of Illinois to correlate with the plant-available P fraction of the soil in slightly acid soils. Many of the P recommendation models, including the Tri State Fertilizer Recommendations for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, and Alfalfa, still utilize Bray P1 soil test values in their equations due to the widespread use of the extractant when these models were developed.
Bray P2, or strong Bray, is a more acidic solution that extracts forms of P that are less soluble than those extracted by the Bray P1 method. This extractant was commonly used when rock phosphate was the major P fertilizer product used in agriculture. It is still utilized by many to measure less soluble forms of P, what is commonly referred to as “active reserve” P in the soil, although most P recommendation models do not consider Bray P2.
Olsen P, or bicarbonate P, is a procedure that was developed in the 1950’s for determining P levels in neutral to alkaline soils. These soils are more commonly found in areas west of the Great Lakes region, so this test is only performed by request.
Mehlich-3 is the most commonly used extractant currently employed by soil testing laboratories in the region. It is a relatively safe extractant to work with and can be used to determine levels of other nutrients in addition to P, which makes it a more efficient method than others. Mehlich-3 is effective on the same types of soils as the Bray P1, but Mehlich-3 soil test P values are somewhat higher than those obtained by a Bray P1 extraction. However, the Mehlich-3 values correlate well with Bray P1 values, so Mehlich-3 values can be regressed into a Bray P1 equivalent number by using a mathematical operation. This allows soil test P values to be reported as a Bray P1 equivalent, which is necessary for making P fertilizer recommendations.
For any type of laboratory analysis to be useful, interpretations must exist in order for the data to be utilized to make decisions on a field scale. While different extracts have been developed to target different forms of P in the soil that may be plant available, this does not mean that the values determined by an extraction are absolute quantities of that nutrient in the soil. Much research has been done to correlate these soil test levels with crop response to a fertilizer material, and it is that correlation that is necessary for interpreting this information and making decisions.

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