October 31, 2016

Soil Testing in a Tough Ag Economy

Anyone who has worked in the agricultural industry in the last few years has heard someone say, “the days of $7 corn and $17 beans are gone.” You may have even seen “In memory of…” decals on truck windows commemorating those commodity prices. The truth is prices are down and most agricultural economists predict that lower prices are going to be the norm for several more years. In these tight times, producers must critically evaluate every crop input from seed selection to herbicide program to fertility program. However, these decisions cannot be made with a short-sighted mentality of getting though the current season and hoping for better prices next year. These decisions have to be made with consideration of how it will impact their operation for the next three, five, or even ten years, especially if commodity prices remain low.

When selecting which seed to plant, it can be tempting to simply go with the highest yielding variety from the previous year’s variety trials. Yield is obviously important, but be sure to purchase a variety appropriate for your operation. For example, do not pay extra for traits to protect against diseases or pests that are not an issue in your region. On the other hand, when selecting an herbicide program, glyphosate alone has a very attractive price tag, but it is necessary to utilize herbicides with other modes of action occasionally to prevent glyphosate resistant weeds from taking over. It may cost a few more dollars per acre at the time, but will certainly be worth it in future years when glyphosate is still an affordable option for most of your weed control.


Soil fertility inputs can represent one of the highest costs in row crop production. In addition to the cost of the fertilizers, there are additional costs for soil sample collection, laboratory analysis, soil mapping and prescription software, and variable rate application. To help reduce costs, some producers may choose to reduce the intensity of soil sampling by using larger grids, fewer management zones, or only collecting a single composite sample from each field. Others may choose to reduce the frequency of sampling or completely abandon sampling all together. While these decisions will initially reduce input costs, how will they impact the productivity and profitability of the operation in the future?

The goal of any fertility program should be produce the greatest yield with the least amount of fertilizer. The most effective way to reduce fertilizer inputs is to identify the areas that require additional inputs and those that do not need any. Soil fertility levels and soil pH can vary greatly in a single field whether it is from natural soil variation or past fertility practices. Collecting a single sample from a field and making a flat rate application of fertilizer or lime based on that single sample is likely to result in an over application in some areas and under application in others. The smaller the area that a soil sample represents, the more confident you can be that the laboratory results accurately represent the area. Maintaining an intensive sampling program, whether grid or zone, is essential to assure the greatest return on your fertilizer investment. 

Too often soil test results are used to make a fertilizer prescription and then discarded. There is a lot to be learned from reviewing previous soil test results. By evaluating the impact of a fertilizer or lime application on the soil test levels, future application rates and timing can be adjusted to better suit your soil type. For example, lime applications are intended to last for three to four years, but on some soils a lime application may only last one to two years and others soils it may last six or seven years. Soils that do not respond to fertilizer or lime applications as expected can only be identified with routine sampling frequency. It takes at least three sampling cycles to begin to identify trends such as this. If a field is sampled on a 4-year cycle, it will take eight years before any adjustments to the soil fertility program can be made with any confidence. By sampling more frequently, every two or three years, these trends can be more quickly identified and addressed.

Managing a successful farming operation means minimizing risk whenever possible. Maintaining a routine intensive soil sampling program is the best option for minimizing the possibility of excessive fertilizer application or losing yield from under application.

October 31, 2016

Partnership – It’s a Sustainable Thing!

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories takes great pride in helping out our Fort Wayne community.  One of the organizations for which we raise charitable funds for during the year is the Fort Wayne Community Urban Farmers.  They provide fresh vegetables to many local agencies that prepare meals for the underserved population of homeless individuals, low-income senior citizens and children.  Agencies like soup kitchens, group homes, residential treatment programs and homeless shelters all benefit from the Urban Farmers program.

In addition, they have been working to establish an Urban 4-H program in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne to teach young people the importance of self-sufficiency through gardening.

Below is an article that recently ran in the local Fort Wayne News Sentinel about the program:


September 30, 2016

OABA Honors Tim Bailey

On August 17th, retired A&L Great Lakes agronomist Tim Bailey was honored at the Ohio Agribusiness Association’s 2016 Educational Trust golf outing.  Tim has been a dependable presence at OABA events and is well deserving of the honor.  Tim has a passion for learning the science of agronomy as well as teaching and helping those around him.  Tim also has another reason to celebrate.  He and his wife Kathy have recently become grandparents to a baby girl - Grace Elizabeth Shawn Bailey.  We at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories offer Tim our congratulations and best wishes!  To read more, check out the OABA Scholarship Golf Outing flyer.

September 30, 2016

2016-2017 Soil Fertility Workshops

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories will be presenting our Soil Fertility Workshops again this winter. 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 (except West Lafayette, IN which runs from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm). 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

November 29, 2016 – Fort Wayne, IN

December 1, 2016 – Grand Rapids, MI

January 4,2017 – Piqua, OH

January 5, 2017 – Effingham, IL

February 7, 2017 - West Lafayette, IN

February 8, 2017 - Rockford, IL

February 14, 2017 - Perrysburg, OH

February 15, 2017 - Frankenmuth, MI

February 21, 2017 - Fort Wayne, IN

February 22, 2017 - Lansing, MI

September 30, 2016

The Thrill of Competition

With the Summer Olympics ending in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, A&L Great Lakes Laboratories’ Olympic committee decided to hold its own first annual Lab Olympics.  Just as in Rio, the A&L Great Lakes Laboratories Lab Olympics was awash with records and landmark moments.


April Matha participating in the filter paper challenge

April Matha participating in the filter paper challenge.


The opening ceremonies consisted of a short presentation of the A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. core values.  The company provided a pulled pork picnic lunch along with a slushy machine and soft serve ice cream cone machine to fuel the athletes prior to competition.  We even had super soakers on hand to keep people cool.  During the picnic, corn hole and hillbilly golf games were set up in the company parking lot. 


Ag Lab Manager Marty Snodgrass and Veronica Kwasny compete in a friendly game of cornhole

Ag Lab Manager Marty Snodgrass and Veronica Kwasny compete in a friendly game of cornhole.


For the Olympic competition, several events were set up to test the skills of our laboratory athletes (stamping, pipetting, filter papering etc).  Employees were split into teams and a series of events in relay style was held.  After an impressive display of laboratory athleticism, a winning team was crowned and the Gold medals were awarded to:

  • Greg Neyman
  • David Henry
  • Veronica Kwasny
  • Stephanie Sanchez
  • Russell Fulk
  • Gleeann VanPetten

The winning team being squirted with Super Soakers during the medals ceremony
The winning team being squirted with Super Soakers during the medals ceremony
September 30, 2016

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.

August 31, 2016

Shipping Solutions

We offer United Parcel Service (UPS) Return Shipping (RS) labels for your shipping convenience. The RS program offers you convenience and allows our customers to take advantage of our significant shipping discounts.

The cost for shipping samples with the RS program is based on the weight of the package and distance it’s shipped. This results in more accurate shipping rates and, coupled with the significant discounts offered, is a very economical option for customers to ship samples to the lab.  RS shipping charges will be applied to your A&L Great Lakes account and are not applied until after the package is received at the lab. You only pay for what you use, and all available discounts are passed along directly to you. Rather than offering promotional shipping programs we provide cost effective, streamlined, fair, and easy shipping options.

The RS program also allows packages to be tracked through the UPS Quantum View® system. This system is set up to provide the client with an email notification when a package arrives at the laboratory, providing a timely notice when your samples arrive and reducing some of the uncertainty associated with sample shipment. In addition, the Quantum View® system also notifies the client if there is any deviation in the normal processing of the shipment, alerting you in advance of any possible delays. These features help to keep you better informed about the status of your samples.

 RS labels can be ordered via our online store or by contacting the laboratory at 260-483-4759. When labels are ordered, you will be asked what type and number of samples will be in a typical package, as well as its approximate weight . This information will be used to generate labels that are appropriate for the package(s) to be shipped. The labels also contain all of the necessary client information for the package to be shipped, so no additional information needs to be entered on the label.

To ship samples to the laboratory, simply affix the RS label to the package to be shipped and deliver the package to a UPS shipping location or give to a UPS driver delivering packages to your location. Package pickup may also be available for an additional fee if you don’t already have daily UPS pickup. Contact your local UPS representative for more information on package pickup.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 260-483-4759, or by email at lab@algreatlakes.com.

August 31, 2016

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.


August 31, 2016

Fall Management of Alfalfa

Fall is a critical time of year to manage alfalfa to ensure maximum productivity and stand longevity. Unlike annual crops such as corn and soybean, fall is when the alfalfa plant begins to store additional sugar, protein, and nutrient reserves in the crown and root system, which will provide protection from the cold winter weather and facilitate vigorous growth next spring. In a year such as this one, where hot and dry weather this summer was especially stressful to the plant, it is crucial to allow the alfalfa crop to prepare for the cold months ahead.

One of the most important management practices involves timely harvest. Final cuttings should be made early enough in the fall to allow the crop to regrow adequately and replenish necessary reserves before a killing frost, and should generally be completed by early to mid-September, depending on your location and local climate. More guidance on the exact timing can be obtained from state Extension publications or your local Extension agent. This is also a good time of year to assess the overall health and quality of an alfalfa crop, including evaluating stand density and root and crown health, allowing you to address any problems before they become serious.

Also critical for maintaining a successful alfalfa stand is managing the fertility of the crop. Fall is a good time of year to make fertilizer and lime applications. Low levels of nutrients, particularly potassium (K), can also lead to reduced stand health and vigor. In addition to the other essential functions of K in the plant, K plays an important role in the plants’ ability to resist subfreezing temperatures, and low levels of K in the plant can lead to increased winterkill if conditions are favorable. In addition, maintaining a proper pH with liming is critical for a number of reasons, including maximizing the availability of other nutrients and ensuring successful nitrogen fixation. Since lime requires adequate soil moisture and time in order to affect soil pH, making lime applications in the fall allows the liming material time to react and can have a greater effect on next year’s crop.

Careful management of your alfalfa crop this fall can mean a stronger, more vigorous crop next year. Therefore, taking some time to care for your alfalfa crop today can mean better results tomorrow and beyond.

July 27, 2016

Spring Cleaning

What is the most effective and dramatic way to clean up an area?  Renovate, replace and redecorate.  Keeping our instrumentation and computer equipment on the cutting edge has always been a priority at A & L Great Lakes Laboratories.  As a result, much of the décor in our employee breakroom and conference room have existed since we moved to this location in 1987.

However, the time had now arrived to enhance areas for our employees and customers.  We began by emptying the employee breakroom of all content, including cabinets and flooring.  With new furnishings and a fresh coat of paint, the breakroom has taken on a new life with additional seating and a refreshing space for employees to take a break or enjoy their lunch.  Our employees at A & L Great Lakes are vital to our operations and accordingly deserve this atmosphere.

A&L Great Lakes breakroom


Next we focused on the lobby and conference room to elevate our customer experience.  Furnishings, flooring and paint also rejuvenated the lobby area while providing additional workspace and a better supply display.  In our conference room, technology was a major consideration for presentations and audio communication for business interactions.  A comfortable space with ample seating represents our company’s commitment to being easy to work with. 

A&L Great Lakes Conference Room

We invite you to check these spaces out the next time you are at the laboratory.  The completed project has been rewarding as many employees were not afraid to get their hands dirty and assisted with demolition and painting.  Great pride and ownership has been taken of these areas and will serve our employees and guests well for many years to come.

Relationships. They’re the most important things we help grow.

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