January 23, 2020

2019 Soil Test Data Summaries Now Available!

The 2019 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.

December 23, 2019

Good Riddance to 2019… Maybe Not Just Yet.

The end of the calendar year for many agronomists and producers is denoted by the beginning of the winter meeting season and the conclusion of the growing season. Visiting among fellow agronomists and producers this time of year, a common topic is the sharing observations and lessons learned from the past year, and the 2019 growing season provided a lot of material for these conversations! Many are ready to put the challenges of 2019 behind and look forward to the 2020 growing season. While the delayed and wet spring planting of 2019 set the stage for many of the management challenges we faced during the 2019 growing season, the fall harvest of 2019 and the resulting management decisions have added to the legacy of 2019 that will impact producers for the coming years.

Years is correct, this is not a typo. So, from a soil perspective what will be some of the challenges moving forward?

First topic up for discussion, shallow compaction. Many fields during the wet spring of 2019 were tilled too wet during seed bed preparation. The conditions in much of the region were wet enough that any seed bed preparation, regardless of tillage tool used, created a shallow tillage layer. If these acres were harvested early and primary tillage was completed before the fall rain set in, this was alleviated to some degree. In many cases the quality of the soil structure was degraded, and a fall tillage pass will not completely correct this.

Correcting tillage layers by allowing the soil structure to improve will take time and less tillage, not more. There is a chance of the 2019 tillage layers impacting the rooting of the 2020 crop. Be watchful for tillage layers when scouting in 2020 by evaluating plant roots to identify fields that may be candidates to receive additional corrective actions like cover crops. If possible, limit the number of tillage passes in the spring of 2020 as to limit the potential for maintaining or making this issue worse.  If 2020 proves to be another wet spring, always remember doing no tillage is an option in some cases. A tillage layer can be created any time soil is lifted, shifted or moved.

Deep compaction will also be an issue. Many fields were harvested wet in the fall of 2018 leading to deep compaction. Much of this land did not see quality primary tillage in the fall of 2018 or in the spring of 2019, and wet soil conditions later in the fall of 2019 may also hindered correction of these issues. Much of the early harvested 2019 crop was done in dry soil conditions that keep the issue from getting worse. Many acres received primary tillage under these favorable conditions. However, there was a considerable amount of primary tillage that was completed later in the fall after the fall rains began.  This tillage may have removed the surface ruts and overall improved the appearance of the soil surface, but the deep compaction may still remain.

In 2020, place a focus on placing earlier maturing hybrids/varieties in those fields that were primarily tilled this fall in wet or less than ideal conditions. Focus on an early harvest of those fields with the greatest risk of deep compaction remaining from 2018 or 2019. This will increase the opportunity to complete the 2020 fall tillage in the best possible conditions.

The wet fall of 2018 prevented the collection of some soil samples, they were delayed until the spring of 2019. Some of these samples were not collected due to the wet spring of 2019 and then were delayed till the fall of 2019. Some of those remain uncollected yet in the fall of 2019.  Some producers took the opportunity to perform fall primary tillage immediately after harvest rather than wait for soil sampling or fertilizer application. Collecting soil samples after fall tillage is not wise. So, what are the options for soil sampling?

First off don’t make matters worse, any variances in the soil sample collection process can impact or vary soil test results. Repeatable and trackable soil test results over time require as much constancy among sampling events as possible. The following are ranked in the order of potential impact on sampling variation in soil test data.

  1. Sample Depth – The sallower the sample, the higher the soil test values in most cases. Consistent depth is nearly impossible when sampling a tilled or muddy field.
  2. Sample Location - For GPS guided sampling programs, collect sample in the same location as previous years.
  3. Sampling shortly after fertilizer or manure application – Soil samples should be delayed for at least 2 to 4 months after fertilizer/manure application.
  4. Crop yield – Increased crop yields lead to lower soil test levels.
  5. Management of prevent plant acres – See previous article on this topic.
  6. Previous Crop - Different crop residues release nutrients back to the soil at different rates, and different crops take up varying amounts of nutrients. For examples, fall soil sample nutrient values tend to be lower following a corn crop than following a soybean crop
  7. Time of year – Spring soil samples tend to have a slightly higher soil test values than fall samples for some nutrients.
  8. Soil moisture – Prolonged periods of dry weather can reduce soil test values. This is more common with summer than fall soil samples and more common in fall than spring samples.

If your soil sampling is out of normal sampling sequence here are some fertility management ideas to consider

  1. If samples have been delayed since the fall of 2018 following soybeans in a corn-soybean rotation, rather than sample in the spring of 2020 ahead of the soybeans, wait until after the 2020 soybean harvest.
  2. If your traditionally apply a 2-year fertilizer application, consider an annual fertilizer application. If the opportunity to sample arises you can adjust to new fertilizer recommendations.
  3. If fall soil samples are delayed till the spring, consider a permanently switch so spring soil sampling.
  4. Consider sampling a season or even a year in advance of fertilizer application. This is becoming popular in the industry for fall fertilizer applications so that the soil data is available to make fertilizer recommendations before harvest. The fertilizer can be ready for application the day of harvest, no waiting.

The fall of 2019 again forced some producers to make decisions that they did not wanted to make. Delayed planting lead to delayed crop maturity, leading to wetter harvest moisture, leading to slowed or delayed harvest, leading to … and the list goes on.  There were consequences to the action taken or the inaction of many decisions this past year.  In most cases it was not about making the “right” decision, but rather the least wrong decision. The decision that has the least costly long-term impact for the operation. Many of us may not want to accept the decisions we made managing the 2019 crop, but always remember you made the best decision you could with the information a you had at the time.  Many times, there was no “right” answer in 2019.

December 20, 2019

Warden Named Indiana CCA of the Year

Randall Warden was named Indiana Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) of the year for 2019! Each year during the Indiana CCA conference held in Indianapolis, IN, an outstanding CCA that exemplifies the professionalism and purpose of CCA program within the agronomy industry of the state is selected. Randall’s deep understanding of soil science and fertility, coupled with his keen ability to evaluate and employ data in which has meaning from the researcher to the producer, has led to a wide range of opportunities to apply ALGL’s extensive database to enhance overall agronomic knowledge in Indiana and worldwide.
December 20, 2019

Fallow Syndrome: Coming Soon to a Corn Field Near You?

The 2019 growing season is mostly in the history books, and for many of us, is one that we are thankful to have behind us. However, 2019 might have one more final shot to take. With the significant acreage that was prevent plant in 2019, some farmers and agronomists are beginning to consider the potential for fallow syndrome in 2020.

Fallow syndrome is not a condition that we routinely encounter in the eastern corn belt. In essence, fallow syndrome is a condition that can occur in fields where a crop was not planted the prior year, and is primarily a problem in grass crops, such as corn or wheat. It manifests as symptoms of a nutrient deficiency, particularly phosphorus, in a field where fertility is adequate. The reason for this condition is a decline in the population of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, such as mycorrhizal fungi. These microorganisms form a symbiotic relationship with the crop plant and enhance the crops ability to uptake nutrients from the soil in exchange for exudates from the roots that feed the microorganisms. In the absence of a suitable host, these microorganism populations decline, and the crop does not become as quickly inoculated as in a year following a crop.

The effects of fallow syndrome will generally be expressed more in fields that were kept clean for most of the prior season, as many weed species are suitable hosts for these microorganisms and will help to preserve their populations. Therefore, if a field was kept sprayed or tilled to limit weed populations, there is more of a risk of fallow syndrome than fields that had weed populations that were not managed or those that were managed by mowing during the season. Also, if a cover crop was planted on a field, fallow syndrome chances are reduced as many cover crop species are suitable hosts for these organisms. One exception to this are brassica species, such as radishes, turnips, or rapeseed, which are not suitable hosts for these microorganisms.

If planning to plant corn in fields that were fallow in 2019, a starter fertilizer application of phosphorus and zinc should be considered, particularly on fields where fertility levels are marginally low. As the root system of the corn plant develops and expands in size, the crop is better able to take in nutrients and the likelihood of these symptoms declines. In addition, microorganism populations will also increase and reestablish the symbiotic relationships within the crop. It is also important to remember that corn plants often exhibit purpling similar to a P deficiency early in the growing season due to the bright, sunny days and cool nights that often occur in the region during the spring.

While fallow syndrome is a real condition, it is unlikely that it will be a major concern for many growers during the 2020 season. As always, sound management is the best tool that we have to deal with this parting shot of 2019.

November 28, 2019

Hay Quality 2019: Know What You Are Feeding

Don’t Let Thin Livestock Happen Sample, Test, Allocate and Balance from Phil Reid on Vimeo.

University experts across our region are cautioning that the volume and quality of the 2019 hay crop in the barn may not be as good as we think. Delayed harvesting of first cutting resulted in significant declines in hay quality. Overly mature forage plants have higher non-digestible fiber levels and reduced mineral contents and may require the addition of supplements to meet livestock nutritional needs.


We have a forage test package available that is specifically designed to meet the Purdue Extension Services recommended test parameters to provide the information needed to ensure proper livestock nutrition this winter.

November 28, 2019

New Study Reviews Mehlich-3 Extractant

University fertilizer recommendations for Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan (Tri-State) are currently based on the Bray-P1 extractant for phosphorus and the ammonium acetate (AA) extractant for cations. These fertilizer recommendations are currently being revised, and will use the Mehlich-3 soil test extractant as the standard for both phosphorus and potassium. A recently released collaborative research study affirmed that Mehlich-3 phosphorus correlates well with Bray-P and Mehlich-3 cations correlate well with ammonium acetate cations, specifically for soils in the Tri-State region.

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories has been using Mehlich-3 extractant since the early 90's with internally developed conversion equations to report Bray P1 and ammonium acetate values for use with established university fertilizer recommendations. Most production soil laboratories use Mehlich-3 so that phosphorus and cations can be obtained with a single laboratory process.

The agronomy staff at ALGL has been closely following revisions to the Tri-State fertilizer recommendations, and have been working to prepare for the transition to directly reporting Mehlich-3 data upon customer request. If you have any questions, please call your ALGL agronomist to discuss this further. To learn more about how the Mehlich-3 extractant compares to the traditional extractants, you can read the research article here.

November 08, 2019

Growers not delaying fall tillage long enough to collect soil samples

With the late harvest, growers are pushing hard to get fall tillage completed to address compaction from both last fall and this spring. In some cases, producers are not even waiting for soil sample collection or fertilizer applications.

Fall tillage will leave the soil surface 1-3 inches higher than before the tillage operation. A sampling depth of 6 inches before tillage becomes 7-9 inches due to the reduced density of the tilled soil. Many soil probe designs will push the soil away rather than collect the soil. Collecting a proper depth soil sample becomes nearly impossible. Some sources recommend driving over the soil surface and taking the samples from the tire tracks, this can lead to too deep of a sample.

If any fertilizer was applied prior to the fall tillage being completed, it is recommended to wait until next spring to collect soil samples.

If a field has been tilled before soil samples have been collected, soil sampling needs to be delayed by a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks to allow the soil to settle to a density that can be accurately sampled. The time needed for soils to settle can increase under deep or aggressive fall tillage operations. It is best to wait until next spring to collect samples. Incorrect sampling depth will bias a soil sample much more than the seasonal variability between spring and fall soil samples.

October 30, 2019

Soil Sampling Lubricants

Fall weather is generally full of ups and downs. As the weather turns cooler and the wind picks up, many of you are rushing to complete last-minute soil sampling before the ground freezes. Cold and wet weather can complicate the sampling process, and can cause great frustration when samples begin to stick in the probe. However, using a lubricant can help to reduce the sticking of samples in the probe and make the process work a bit easier on the sampler.

A number of different lubricants have been evaluated over the years for their effectiveness as a sampling aid and their impact on the analysis results. Two of the most commonly recommended lubricants are either WD-40, or aerosol cooking sprays such as Pam. Either of these products act as a water dispersant, effectively creating a film on the metal that repels water and limits the sticking within the tube. From anecdotal evidence, WD-40 tends to be a bit more persistent on the probe than does cooking spray, and therefore tends to require less frequent application.

The effect of either material generally has a negligible effect on measured levels of macronutrients. There is some evidence that suggests micronutrient levels may be affected somewhat, but the effect is generally pretty minor. WD-40 tends to affect micronutrient levels less than cooking spray, so it is recommended when micronutrients are to be analyzed. This may be more significant in soils that are naturally low in micronutrients because the slight variation in levels will be a larger percentage of the total levels. However, if the use of lubricants results in better quality sample collection, the benefits of using a lubricant should greatly outweigh any potential for contamination from the lubricant itself.

September 30, 2019

UPS RS Label Expiration Dates

UPS RS labels can be printed at any time, and there are no charges associated with the labels until they are used. This means they can be printed in advance and ready to use when you are already to ship. One challenge in printing UPS RS labels too early is that the tracking capabilities for a given label decline 12 – 16 months after creation.


The date of creation can be tracked directly on the label. If you are nearing the expiration date printed on the UPS RS labels, you can request new labels by calling/emailing the lab, calling/emailing your ALGL agronomy sales representative, or ordering via our on-line store at www.algreatlakes.com.

2 Easy Steps to Shipping Samples:

1.     Order Boxes – We offer 4 convenient boxes for soil sample shipment. Order the boxes and associated labels online or by calling the lab. You purchase the boxes and we ship them with the labels to you at our cost.

2.     Pack Your Samples – Place the samples in the box so that they will not spill in shipment, tape the box shut, and affix the UPS RS label on the box. The box can be part of your usual UPS pickup, dropped off at a UPS pickup location, or you can call UPS to schedule a pickup. There may be a cost associated with a UPS on site pickup, please inquire with your local UPS representative.

You are not charged for the UPS RS labels until they are scanned by UPS upon pickup. The cost of the shipment is calculated using our discount, and that amount is transferred to your invoice. The cost of the sample analysis and shipping come to you on one invoice.


September 30, 2019

Keep Your Samples Safe!

With the growing season winding down, many of you are beginning to think ahead to collecting fall soil samples. With the time and effort that you put into collecting those samples, we want to make sure that they arrive safe and sound, and in good condition. Following are some suggestions to ensure that your samples arrive safely and can be processed without delay.

  1. Use appropriate sample containers. Soil samples in paper envelopes and liquid samples in ziplock bags may be lost in shipment. We can provide you with the correct bags, bottles and boxes.
  2. Send a sample that is representative of the material you are testing. Very small and extremely large volumes of samples may affect the analysis results.
  3. Make sure all sample containers are closed and securely fastened. If a sample can spill… it will. 
  4. Include a sample submittal form that lists all of the sample information, reference information, tests requested, special information, and your account number. Submittal forms can be found at algreatlakes.com, or you can contact the laboratory.  
  5. Pack your box carefully. Using the sample submittal form as your packing order can help you identify when a sample is missing before you ship the box.
  6. Use a shipping box that is the right size. Small samples packed in large boxes can bounce around and be damaged in shipment.  Pack open spaces with crumpled newspaper.
  7. Use a shipping box that is rated for the weight that you’re shipping. We receive boxes each year which have broken apart from the weight of the samples.
  8. Protect your back – and ours. Avoid shipping overweight sample boxes.  Our chiropractor will thank you.
  9. Make sure your return address is on the shipping box – even if it is inside one of the box flaps. This can help determine who to contact in case of a problem.
  10. If you are shipping samples in multiple boxes, please mark the boxes 1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3… this will help the lab technicians get your boxes back together, and will help us determine if a box is missing in shipment.

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