July 31, 2017

Money in the Pit - The Value of Manure

Whether you are a livestock producer looking to utilize a by-product or a crop producer looking for an economical nutrient source, it is essential to know the nutrient content of your manure to make efficient and effective applications. The nutrient composition of manure can vary greatly depending on the livestock type, diet, and method of storage. A laboratory manure analysis can ensure that application rates are appropriate for maximizing crop yields and minimizing the potential for over or under application of nutrients which can cause yield loss or surface and ground water contamination.

The high cost of transportation and application equipment for manure can sometimes cause us to overlook the benefits of land applying manure. Manure is an excellent source of organic matter which, over time, can improve the physical properties of the soil. However, it is difficult to accurately place a dollar value on this benefit because the economics of organic matter are not  well understood when compared with other inputs of crop production, but by comparing the nutrient content of manure to that of conventional fertilizers, a dollar value can be estimated for the manure.

The following example uses approximate prices for fertilizers of $0.35/lb Nitrogen, $0.35/lb Phosphorus (P2O5), and $0.25/lb Potassium (K2O). We will use the average nutrient analysis for two of the most common forms of manure found in the Eastern Corn Belt to determine a value based on the NPK content.






Swine (liquid pit) lb/1000 gal





Swine ($/1000 gal)




$26.85/1000 gal

Poultry (w/litter) lb/ton





Poultry ($/ton)





*Not all N will be plant available in the first year after application. Availability is very dependent on weather and other factors. However, estimated first year availability is provided on the laboratory analysis report.

Application rate determinations should be based using the results of a recent soil analysis, as well as estimated crop removal. Appropriate application rates will not supply nitrogen or phosphorus in excess of crop needs. This means that supplemental applications of conventional fertilizers may be necessary to provide the total nutrient needs for your intended crop. For examples of these calculations and more information regarding manure analysis, please see the  A&L Great Lakes Laboratories Fact Sheet titled Manure Analysis and Interpretations.


July 31, 2017

The ABC's of Ordering Supplies Online

The A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. web store is a good way to conveniently and quickly place an order for all the bags, boxes and shipping labels you need.  If you are new to the Store, here’s a quick tutorial for shopping online.

  1. Go to the https://algreatlakes.com/ and scroll down to “Supplies You Need” and click the “Learn More” button.  Or, go to https://algreatlakes.com/collections


  1. A store account is not required to order supplies. If you would like to create a store account, choose “Create Store Account” from the menu. The store account will keep track of past online orders.


Please note that creating a Store account is not the same as creating an A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. corporate account.


  1. It is important to make sure to enter your A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. lab account number if you want the items billed to your account. You can choose to bill the items to your account or credit card in the payment step of check out.  


  1. Once your supply order has been completed, you will get an email confirmation about your order. Supplies are usually shipped out to our customers the same or next business day.


  1. If you would like to view your supply order history online, simply log into your store account and you will be able to see all of your past orders.


  1. You can also always email us at lab@algreatlakes.com or phone us your supply order if you prefer or if you have questions.





June 30, 2017

Nitrogen Release from Organic Residues

Nitrogen (N) is one of the most critical elements in all living organisms, and is often one of the most limiting nutrients in crop production. In addition, N is perhaps the most dynamic nutrient in the soil, and a number of factors can influence the amount, form and plant availability of N.

N can exist in a number of different forms in the soil. However, N is only available to plants as ammonium (NH4+) or as nitrate (NO3-). Both NH4+ and NO3- are inorganic forms of N, which simply means that they are not contained in an organic, or carbon based compound.

Organic materials, such as plant or animal remains or soil organic matter, contain N as an integral component of their structure. Much of this N is contained within organic compounds, and is therefore not plant available. However, when these materials are broken down by natural chemical and biological processes, much of the N is converted into an inorganic form and released into the soil solution.


The breakdown of organic N into inorganic N, a process called mineralization, is accomplished by soil microorganisms. These microorganisms consume the residues for energy and, in the process, release N as inorganic N compounds such as ammonium. Mineralization is affected by a number of different factors, including  soil temperature and moisture content, that affect the rate at which these soil microorganisms function.

One of the most critical factors is the composition of the organic residue. The amount of N in a residue can vary widely from one material to another, and this has a strong bearing on not only the amount of N released but also on the rate at which it will be released from the residue. The amount of carbon (C) relative to the amount of N in a material is expressed as the Carbon to Nitrogen, or C:N ratio of the material. Materials with a high C:N ratio, such as wheat straw, will have a tendency to break down slower than materials with a low C:N ratio, such as soybean stubble. In addition, materials with a high C:N ratio may temporarily decrease the amount of inorganic N in the soil in order for the soil microorganisms to have adequate N to function, a process called N immobilization.

The release of N from organic residues is a critical process in natural systems. While we generally consider this to be a less important process in agricultural systems because of our use of fertilizer N, most agricultural crops can still receive a large portion of their total N needs through this process. Therefore, understanding the basics of N release from organic residues is critical for successful fertility management.


June 30, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Soil Sample: Day 1

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.
June 30, 2017

Service with a Smile

Amanda (aka “Mandee”) Muñoz has accepted a new challenge within A&L Great Lakes Laboratories as a member of our Customer Service team.  Mandee began her career with A&L Great Lakes as an ICP technician in 2005. During her tenure, she has also worked with our water, nitrogen and carbon/nitrogen processes. 

Employment Opportunities at A&L Great Lakes

She brings these experiences to her new role as a member of our Customer Service team, joining Julie Bruggner, whom many of you know. Mandee’s friendly, outgoing personality makes her a great addition to the team. Mandee and Julie work closely with our customers to ensure that their needs and questions are addressed quickly and with integrity.

In her spare time, she enjoys trying new restaurants in town, because there is always something new and exciting with them.  Of course, this is in addition to spending time with family and friends, and cheering for the Hoosiers.  Congratulations Mandee!!

May 26, 2017

Nitrogen Management with Replant or Thin Corn Stands

While talking to agronomists from all over the Great Lakes Region, we have heard questions focused on nitrogen loss, population counts, and how late various corn maturities can be planted, but might we be missing the key questions to maximizing profitability of the 2017 corn crop. It is time to take a hard look at our nitrogen plans and adjust them for reality.

The target corn yield of 200+ bu/acre of April may not be a realistic yield goal with the delayed planting. One positive thing about reduced yield goals because of late planting, replanting, or reduced stand populations is that the nitrogen required to achieve this adjusted lower yield goal is likely also reduced. Early spring preplant and starter nitrogen has likely been subject to loss due to the wet conditions, but has the loss of nitrogen exceeded the loss of yield potential? Most likely no, and if you have plans to side-dress, be certain to adjust your nitrogen rates for you new yield goals.

With pre-plant nitrogen, utilize soil nitrate and ammonium tests to monitor fields that might be at risk. One benefit to late planted corn is that side dress nitrogen applications will also be delayed, usually into a period with weather conditions that have a lower risk of nitrogen loss, thus leading to potentially greater nitrogen use efficiency. Help from your Regional A&L Great Lakes Agronomist is only a phone call away!

April 27, 2017

Gearing Up for PSNT

Nitrogen is the most elusive nutrient to manage and, when deficient, will significantly limit yield potential to a point that profits are lost. Having the right amount of nitrogen available at the right time is essential to achieving profitability.

A corn plant uses around 10% of the nitrogen it needs during the first three weeks of growth. Then, during the next five weeks (V4 to V18), it needs to take up 65% of its total seasonal nitrogen requirement. If nitrogen supply is limited during this period, yield and profits will suffer. Taking a pre-sidedress nitrate test (PSNT) at the V4-V5 stage indicates how much nitrogen is available in the soil from cover crops, legumes, applied manure and other organic sources.

Timing is very important; samples should be taken five to ten days before sidedressing to allow time to collect the sample, have it analyzed and receive the results. Samples taken too early will not be as accurate because nitrogen is continually released (mineralized) in the spring as the soil warms.

A&L Great Lakes analyzes PSNT samples and reports results the next business day after receipt. PSNT soil samples should represent no more than 20 acres. The sampled area should be consistent for past crop, soil types and manure applications. Sample the soil 12 inches deep, taking 15 to 20 cores per field. Avoid probing through the starter band. If fields have significantly differing soil types or drainage patterns, sample these areas separately. In addition, it is generally not recommended that these samples be analyzed as a part of a basic soil test, because of the differences in recommended sampling depth.

More information on the PSNT, including information on sampling and sample handling, is outlined in our PSNT Fact Sheet, which is available from our website.

April 27, 2017

A Breath of Fresh Air

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, but our work areas often get left behind.

The old office furniture, installed more than 25 years ago, served us well, but had outlived its useful life, and was badly in need of repair and refreshment. We began by removing the old furniture, flooring, and ceiling tiles.


A fresh coat of paint, new flooring, and replacing the ceiling tiles made everything look a lot better!

The project was finished off with new, modern office furniture to better meet the needs of our staff to ensure that they are better able to serve our customers.

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.

April 27, 2017

Employee Spotlight: Meet Patti Knuth

Patti has been with us for almost 30 years of combined service (she took a short 4 year break 12 years ago). She is the voice of our company-- chances are if you have called us, you have talked to her.

She started in the lab, analyzing plants, feeds, and manures. Now she answers customer questions and helps with issues. She loves our customers. When asked what her favorite part of her job is, she said pleasing customers. What a great ambassador to have in our customer service role!

In her spare time, she likes to ride her bike on the Fort Wayne Trails and you can often catch her at the Trek The Trails events on Tuesday nights throughout the summer.

March 31, 2017

Spring Sampling Considerations

We frequently get the question at the lab; “When is the best time to take a soil sample?”  Soil fertility is not static.  Soil test levels fluctuate naturally through the year as nutrients are taken up by growing plants and returned from residue.  Application of fertilizer, manure or other nutrient sources increases the amount of crop nutrients, causing soil test levels to increase immediately after application.  During the growing season, soil test levels will decline as nutrients are taken up by plants.  Overall, if the application rate approximates crop needs there will be a minimal effect after nutrients in crop residues or cover crop are returned to the soil through decomposition. To minimize the effects of these processes on soil test levels, it is recommended that soil samples be collected at approximately the same time of year each time a field is sampled to reduce variability introduced by the normal crop growing cycle.

While the results of a single soil test can provide information needed to define the fertility program for a given area for the coming set number of years, the real value comes from looking at the data collected from several sampling events, taken at a similar point during the growing cycle, and identifying the trends in the soil test values.  For example, if a soil sample is collected and the resulting data shows a lower than desired fertility level, we may need to apply more fertilizer for the next crop.  If soil test values increase toward a target level over sampling cycles, it indicates the fertility program is working as intended.  The fertility program would need to be adjusted if soil test levels are trending lower or higher than intended.

Traditionally, fall has been the most popular time within this region to soil sample, with nutrient application made soon after.  Fall soil sampling and fertilizer application requires several steps:

  • Field is harvested
  • Service provider contacted about sampling the field
  • Service provider coordinates soil sample collection
  • Samples are collected
  • Samples sent/delivered to the lab
  • Samples processed and analyzed by the lab
  • Soil test results sent to the service provider
  • Soil test results used to generate fertility recommendations
  • Fertilizer ordered and tendered to the field
  • Fertilizer is spread
  • Fertilizer incorporated if tilled

With many steps condensed into a short time period and with often less than ideal weather forecasts, things must happen quickly.  The soil fertility program is a critical investment that has a major impact on a grower's bottom line, and making decisions related to the program should be done with great care.  It is hard to optimize a rushed management decision.  

More are switching to spring soil sampling to reduce this time crunch.  Samples can be collected throughout the spring, even in the planted crop.  Soil test data can be processed so that fertilizer and lime applications can occur immediately after harvest or the following spring.  Crop conditions and weather during the growing season can be also evaluated to further refine soil fertility programs. There is considerable value to sampling well ahead of the fertilizer application season, providing time and flexibility to make better fertilizer management and purchasing decisions.

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