May 28, 2018

Assessing Soil Quality

Soil quality, often referred to as soil health, is a topic that continues to receive much attention.  As producers continue to push for greater yields and improved economics in their crop production system, more emphasis is being placed on the soil environment and its ability to produce a healthy crop in a sustainable way.  However, evaluating soil quality is not always as simple as pulling a soil sample and sending it to the lab.

The USDA-NRCS defines soil quality as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans”.  As evidenced by this definition, there is no one set parameter by which one measures soil quality.  The term can be interpreted in a number of ways depending on the situation.  Different soils in different locations will have different forms of “quality”, so the producer must learn to understand the capabilities of their soil and temper their expectations according to that capability.

One of the most fundamental steps to take when evaluating and managing for soil quality is to understand the soil that you are working with. Some properties of the soil cannot be practically changed.  These properties, known as inherent soil properties, are a result of how the soil was formed.  One example of this is soil texture.  A sandy soil will, for all practical purposes, always be a sandy soil.  Short of incorporating a huge amount of silt or clay, there is nothing you can do to change this. Massive changes like this can also result in negative impacts on the soil. However, there are other soil properties that can be influenced somewhat by management.  These properties, known as dynamic soil properties, can be influenced by how the soil is managed.  For example, soil organic matter content is a dynamic soil property.  It can change, however slowly, by how you manage tillage and crop residues. Soil structure can also be improved through proper soil management, again these changes take years to have a significant positive impact.

 A number of different assessments should be made, including a thorough examination of the physical properties of the soil. While soil health testing methods are being developed, these are not standardized today and interpretation of results still require validation. In addition, a standard soil test is also an important way to evaluate the chemical properties of the soil to ensure that nutrient levels are appropriate for growth.

April 27, 2018

Improving N Use Efficiency with PSNT

The goal of any good nitrogen (N) management program is to maximize yield and minimize inputs. For corn growers that utilize manure or other organic forms of N, using the Presidedress Soil Nitrate Test (PSNT) can be a good tool for fine tuning N needs of the crop prior to sidedressing with N.
The PSNT is a way to measure the amount of N, in the form of nitrate, which is supplied by organic materials in the soil. The procedure was developed to measure the amount of N that is naturally released, or mineralized, from the decomposition of organic materials in the soil. This test is most applicable in fields where manure has been applied, following legume forage crops, or following cover crops.
Sampling for the PSNT is different than routine soil sampling. Samples are collected approximately 1 week prior to a planned sidedress application, generally when corn is 6 to 12 inches tall (V4 to V6). Samples are taken to a depth of 12 inches. Take 10 to 15 cores to represent one sample area. Sample area should be determined based upon factors that influence mineralization rates such as drainage class, slope, cropping history, and rate of manure applications. A single sample should represent no more that 15 to 20 acres. The samples should be shipped immediately to the lab for analysis. In situations when shipping is delayed, refrigerate or freeze samples until they can be shipped or delivered to the lab. Samples should be shipped early in the week to avoid weekend delays.
We understand the importance of PSNT in your nitrogen management programs, so we provide one day turnaround time for soil nitrate samples.
Most states have developed interpretive guidelines for the PSNT. While most states have very similar interpretations, we recommend looking into other states in the region to help guide you to make the best management decision for your operation.

As mentioned previously, the PSNT is intended to measure the N from organic matter decomposition, so if a high rate of N was applied pre-planting, the interpretation of the results may not be accurate. For additional information on PSNT from A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, please see our Fact Sheet.
Indiana: Purdue Extension
Ohio: Ohio State University Extension
Michigan: Michigan State University Extension
Illinois: University of Illinois Extension
Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Extension
A&L Great Lakes Labs Fact Sheet: In-season Soil Nitrate Testing for Corn
April 27, 2018

Meet Kelsey Roth

Meet Kelsey Roth, A&L Great Lakes Labs' new receptionist and customer service specialist. She began her tenure with ALGL in early March 2018, but has worked in customer service for several years. Kelsey has a vital role within the company because she will often be the first person that our customers interact with, whether on the phone or when they come through the front door. She looks forward to working with and getting to know all of our customers.

In her spare time, Kelsey loves to golf, read, and spend time with her cat Wesley (he likes to go on walks outside).  Kelsey is a native of Decatur, Indiana and went to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where she majored in psychology. Welcome to the A&L Great Lakes team, Kelsey!

March 30, 2018

Management Practices for Better Pastures

Quality pasture is one of the greatest assets in the production of ruminant livestock. Good pasture provides high quality feed very cost effectively and with a relatively low labor requirement. However, many pastures receive little if any management; resulting in low yielding, low quality feed. Here are a few basic tips when it comes to managing for a quality pasture.

  1. Get to know your grass (and forbs, legumes, etc…): Different forage species have different growth characteristics and, as a result, have different requirements. Understanding these requirements depends on having an accurate identification of the plants that you are managing. Once you know what species you are dealing with, developing a better understanding of their specific requirements will allow you to make management decision to properly manage them.
  1. Know the soil conditions: This is where having a timely soil test is key. Forage crops, like all crops, are affected by soil conditions such as pH, phosphorus, and potassium levels. Maintaining these attributes within the acceptable range for these crops is critical to ensuring that they perform as they should.
  1. Manage growth stage: Forage quality is at its highest when the plant is in  vegetative growth stages, and declines rapidly once the plant enters reproductive stages. Managing grazing or mowing to keep forage crops in a vegetative state will maximize the quality of forage that the animal receives.
  1. Let it rest: Allowing adequate rest periods between grazing events will help to maximize the vigor and health of the forage stand. When a forage plant is grazed, that plant loses a majority of its’ photosynthetic capacity, and must rely on root reserves of carbohydrates in order to build more leaf tissue. If repeated grazing is allowed, that plant will be continually depleting its’ root reserves in order to build new tissue. Over time, this can result in stunted forage plants that are more susceptible to drought stress, winter injury, and pests.
  1. Manage weeds: Weeds are a given, even in a well-managed crop. Complete weed control is often impractical due to a number of factors, such as cost, grazing restrictions of herbicides, and limited herbicide options. However, properly timed and executed grazing and cutting will limit the ability of weeds to actively grow and, perhaps more importantly, limits their ability to reproduce. In addition, maintaining a strong forage stand will also reduce weeds due to competition.

Forages are unique plants that require careful management to perform to their fullest potential, which in turn can have major benefits to animal productivity.

March 30, 2018

Declining Soil Test Potassium Levels

In 2015, the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) released their report on soil test levels. Potassium was one of the soil nutrients that were exhibiting a steady decline in soil test levels. A&L Great Lakes Laboratories regularly contributes to the IPNI data set, and we also analyze our data for the Eastern Corn Belt region.


In the graph above the green bars indicate the average potassium soil test levels in ppm. The dashed line is the trend line of the soil test values, indicating an average 1.3 ppm per year decline. In addition, the blue line on the graph indicates the percentage of samples that are likely deficient. This trendline is of particular concern since it exhibits a steady increase in the percentage of soils which are likely deficient in soil test K levels.

While it is difficult to attribute these declines to only one factor, yield and fertilizer application trends show an overall net negative balance. On average, potassium is being removed from the soil faster than it is being supplied. It takes, on average, the addition of 8 pounds of K2O raise a soil test by 1 ppm. Inversely, the removal of 8 pounds of K2O lower a soil test by 1 ppm. On an annual average, crop removal of K2O exceeds application by 10 pounds per acre per year. Looking at USDA data, the crop removal of potassium at USDA average yields for corn and soybeans began outpacing average potash applications in the late 1990’s, just before the steady increase of deficient soils begin in the early 2000’s. 

There are many factors that may potentially contribute to these trends. Better crop management practices and improved genetics are leading to rapid increases in yields. If those higher yields are not accounted for when generating fertilizer recommendations, particularly if actual yields exceeded yield goals, nutrient recommendations may be inadequate to supplant what the crop actually removed. Predicting future yields in these high yield environments can be difficult, so it may be more beneficial to base crop removal on yields obtained in previous years, and to adjust future removals to accommodate high yielding crops that occurred since the previous fertilizer application.

Another factor may be the financial, logistical, and equipment limitations brought about by the high amounts of fertilizer material which are required to meet these higher crop removal needs. As an example, if applying nutrients in the form of MAP (11-52-0) and potash (0-0-60) on a two-year application cycle to replace the nutrients removed from a 240 bushel corn crop and a 70 bushel soybean crop, a total of 500 pounds of fertilizer per acre would be required. If an application is capped below this level due to fertilizer budgets, equipment limitations, or concerns of overloading the soil’s ability to retain nutrients, applications adequate to meet crop removal may not be made. Often these maximums are in the range of 400 to 500 pounds, not covering crop removal in some yield environments.  


A final management practice that may be reducing the amount of potassium held by the soil is the application of high calcium products at the same time as potassium applications. The soil cation exchange capacity (CEC) has a limited ability to hold cation nutrients, and if a large quantity of calcium is added to the system, it can lead to losses of soil potassium. This is amplified when multiyear applications of potassium are made, or when large applications of calcium products are made in a similar time frame as a potassium application.

March 30, 2018

Salt Injury in Landscapes

As the weather begins to warm up and our landscapes begin to show new life, we occasionally receive phone calls from homeowners and landscape professionals about plants that are exhibiting injury symptoms. These symptoms can range from minor yellowing of foliage even to death of plants. While a number of factors can cause this, a common one is injury from deicing salts.

Salt injury is generally limited to areas adjacent to an area that has received deicing salt applications during the winter, such as along roads, sidewalks, or patios. Salts that come in contact with foliage can cause burning and discoloration of the foliage. This type of injury can be significant depending on the percentage of the foliage affected, but the injury will generally subside once the foliage is rinsed by rainfall or irrigation. However, if high levels of salt enter the soil, they can continue to cause damage.

 When salts enter the soil, they can change the way that water moves within the soil and cause the plants to be stressed by restricting the ability of roots to take up water from the soil, in essence causing water stresses similar to drought stress. These salts can also displace essential plant nutrients, leading to possible nutrient deficiencies within the plant.

However, not all landscape injuries that we observe in the spring are salt damage. Winter can be brutal on landscaping plants in other ways. Cold temperatures, extremely dry air and strong winds can cause many plants, especially evergreen trees and shrubs, to lose moisture rapidly, leading to browning of foliage. This type of injury, known as desiccation injury, may closely resemble salt injury, but can be found in plants away from deicing salt applications.

If salt injury is suspected, it is recommended that the soil be tested for soluble salts and sodium (Na), in addition to a routine soil test, to determine if salt levels are high enough to cause further injury to plants. By analyzing for these properties, you can assess the amount of impact that the deicing salt has had within the soil profile and take steps to mitigate its effects.

Correcting mild to moderate salt injury generally involves flushing the excess salt from the rooting zone. This requires thorough and repeated watering to cause the water to flow through the rooting zone, thereby reducing the potential for toxicity. This should be done as soon as possible to reduce further injury. In situations of very high salts or poor drainage it may be more practical to remove and replace the affected soil.

February 23, 2018

We Want Your Photos!

Did you miss sending a picture in for the 2018 A&L Great Lakes Laboratories calendar? You have another chance. The response to the 2018 calendar was great, and we are going to again ask for your pictures for the 2019 calendar. 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 along with your name and address. Please submit your pictures in the highest resolution possible before August 1st, 2018. In August 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 1st, 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.
January 30, 2018

2018 Workshops Filling Up Fast!

There are still a few seats available for the 2018 Soil Fertility Workshops. While the presentation materials evolve to include current research, the focus on fundamental soil fertility concepts remains at the core of the workshops. The workshops are designed with a focus on how nutrients interact with the soil and function within the plant, and how these relations impact nutrient management decisions. The program uses fundamental text references and university research to introduce concepts and then make them applicable to modern production agriculture.

The workshops run from 8 am to 4 pm local time. For CCA’s, the workshops will provide 7.0 CEU’s, consisting of 4.5 hours in Nutrient Management, 2.0 hours in Soil and Water Management, and 0.5 hours in Crop Management. Please visit our website for more information or to register for one of these workshops today!

Soil Fertility Workshop Registration

February 6, 2018 - Perrysburg, OH

February 7, 2018 - Frankenmuth, MI

February 13, 2018 - Lansing, MI

February 15, 2018 - Rockford, IL

February 20, 2018 - Fort Wayne, IN

February 21, 2018 - Champaign, IL

January 30, 2018

2017 Soil Test Data Summaries Available

The 2017 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.

November 21, 2017

Thankful Mutants

As I sit down to write this article about Thanksgiving it would easy to focus on negative events that have occurred in my life and be grumpy and ungrateful.  Family, friends and coworkers also have challenges. One might lose perspective or become depressed.  Or put on a disingenuous smile and just “fake it”.  How does one remain grateful when they aren’t necessarily “feeling it”? 

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough are two of the leading American investigators of gratitude. They describe gratitude as personality strength—the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen to you and never take them for granted. Grateful individuals express their thanks and appreciation to others in a heartfelt way, not just to be polite. If you possess a high level of gratitude, you often feel an emotional sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life itself. 

A grateful person takes nothing for granted. Rather, they take a beginner’s thrill at a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day.  They are keenly aware of their continual dependence on others and the blessings they’ve been given.  This is certainly counter-cultural to what we see in the general public and mainstream media.  

Thinking back to the original Thanksgiving I remember that it arose from a very difficult time in history.  Many pilgrims died from a rough winter.   They certainly didn’t have any of the conveniences we have today.  You’ve heard the saying that “Happiness is a choice” and perhaps “Gratefulness is a choice” as well.

Beyond rotten circumstances, some people are just naturally more grateful than others. A 2014 article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience identified a variation in a gene (CD38) associated with gratitude. Some people simply have a heightened genetic tendency to experience, in the researchers’ words, “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love).” That is, those relentlessly positive people you know who seem grateful all the time may simply be mutants.  As an owner of a company, I want such mutants working for me!  

So, I decided to take an informal survey among the employees at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc.  I asked them what they were grateful for this Thanksgiving when it came to the lab, their workplace.  Here is a sampling of some of the results:

“I’m Thankful”:

  • For a job that fits my gifts, passions and interests.
  • That I’m always busy and kept challenged.
  • The company allows me time off when I need to take off for family.
  • For leadership and management that cares and asks our input about how things could be improved.
  • That I can count on my co-workers to do the right things right. I can depend on them and it makes my job easier.
  • For really great customers that I can interact with on the phone.
  • That we are a unified team and everyone pulls together.
  • It’s a fun atmosphere. I like playing in the dirt!


Amazingly, after speaking with the staff and hearing their comments I realized how much I have to be thankful for this season.  I’m rebelling against the feelings that were bringing me down.  Soil busy season is always a challenging time for any ag lab, but I’m so thankful that I get to go through it with grateful “mutants”!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE

 Greg Neyman, Vice-President/COO


Emmons, R.A., and McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84: 377-89.

Brooks, Arthur C (Nov. 21, 2015). Choose to Be Grateful.  It Will Make You Happier. Retrieved from

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