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 commonly 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.  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.
March 31, 2017

Monitoring 28% and UAN Solutions

UAN (urea-ammonium-nitrate) solutions are routinely applied in the late spring and early summer to deliver nitrogen (N) to young crops. Because UAN is a nonpressurized solution, it can be used without the hazards associated with anhydrous ammonia and can be spread more uniformly than granular fertilizer. Certain pesticides may also be added, eliminating an extra pass through the field. UAN solutions are usually manufactured with a 32% N analysis, transported nearer the point of use, and then diluted (“cut”) to 28% or 30% N with water or a nutrient rich solution such as ammonium sulfate. The N analysis of UAN solutions is monitored throughout the supply chain to assure quality and consistency. A hydrometer is commonly used to check the N analysis of solutions, estimating the N content by solution density. A hydrometer reading will vary with the temperature of the solution. Nitrogen and density values will differ by source of 32% UAN solution.

The density of a cutting solution should also be considered when making dilutions. The density of ammonium sulfate (AMS) solution is usually higher than water, and can vary by source. For example, if a hydrometer reading is 1.28 g/cc for a UAN solution that was diluted with water to 28% N, diluting the same UAN solution to that density with AMS would result in a product with only 26% N. The UAN density corresponding to a given N content must be adjusted when diluting with a solution other than water. A hydrometer calibration (chart) can be developed using laboratory analyses of N, S and specific gravity on the various solutions (UAN, AMS, etc.) and mixtures that might be used. Once a calibration is developed, hydrometer readings, adjusted for temperature, can approximate the N content of the UAN solution. Periodic laboratory analyses should be performed to update the hydrometer calibration since the density of new UAN and cutting solutions can change.

March 31, 2017

Employee Spotlight: Meet Alexis Gutierrez

Lexi is a lab technician in the fertilizer department. In this role, she tests different fertilizers for various elements and creates reports so that our clients can make better decisions about their fertilizer usage. She also does quality analysis for fertilizer companies.

She earned her Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry from Manchester University. She has been full time with us since April 2016. She enjoys working with test tubes and beakers, and really likes the color changes that occur through the different tests she administers. She also likes the family-feel of the culture here.

In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her son who is just shy of 2 years old.

March 31, 2017

Effective Herbicide Use Starts at the Tap

Herbicide resistant weeds are an ever-growing concern in production agriculture. One of the quickest ways to encourage weeds to develop resistance to a herbicide chemistry is to use less than the labeled rates of that herbicide. Knowing this, very few applicators will use less than labeled herbicide rates. However, what if an applicator is effectively applying less than labeled rates unknowingly due to the quality of their spray water?


This University of Florida extension article discusses how spray water chemistry impacts the performance of flumioxazin, a key ingredient in the effective control of herbicide resistant marestail. We offer two spray water analysis packages to help you identify the challenges with your spray water so you to make the most effective applications possible.


February 28, 2017

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 tuning a “green-up” nitrogen applications 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.

February 28, 2017

Compost Seal of Testing Assurance (STA)

Compost analysis has become an integral part of our testing business.  It is an area that has consistently grown over the years mainly because of the U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program and the fact that compost utilization is increasing as users discover the benefits of composting and using compost.  



What is “STA”?
The Seal of Testing Assurance Program is a compost testing, labeling and information disclosure program designed to provide information to compost producers or users so that they can get the maximum benefit from the use of compost.  The program was created in 2000 and is the consensus of many of the leading compost research scientists in the United States.  A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. has been working with the USCC for many years, and we were one of two independent laboratories who worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the validation of the USCC testing methods.
We are a certifying laboratory for the Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program.  We analyze composts from throughout the United States, and have had the opportunity to analyze compost samples from Mexico, Central America, Europe and some Caribbean islands. 

What Methods Are Used?
In order to keep quality consistently high, it is important to have standardized test methods that all certifying laboratories adhere to. The United States Composting Councils’ Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Composts (TMECC) are the standard methods used for compost testing in both the United States and Canada and are jointly published by the USDA and the USCC.  They were selected to help both compost producer and purchaser to determine if the compost they are considering is suitable for the use that they are planning, and to help them compare various compost products using a testing program that can be performed by a group of independent, certified labs across the country and in Canada. TMECC provides protocols to sample, monitor, and analyze materials at all stages of the composting process.   

It is also important to know that although the TMECC methods are primarily what we follow for compost testing, we can also perform some analyses by ASTM methods as well.  ASTM methods are often requested by engineering firms, landscape architects etc.

CAP Program
The Compost Analysis Proficiency Testing program (CAP) was initiated to provide the Compost Laboratory Analysis Industry with an inter-laboratory QC program, to develop reference materials, and to measure the performance and reliability of TMECC analytical methods.  A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. is a Tier II CAP Program participant analyzing both Inorganic and Biological components 3x/year. 

What Is The Process?
Compost manufacturers in the STA program will send our laboratory samples of their compost products based on the volume they produce annually.  The laboratory then analyzes the compost for a defined set of tests and produces an analytical report as well as a Compost Technical Data Sheet.  The Compost Technical Data Sheet includes directions for product use, a list of product ingredients and analytical test results.  It is really advantageous for a compost producer to be able to hand a prospective customer a Technical Data Sheet produced by an independent lab.  It really lends validity to the product.  Another benefit of the STA program is that the compost producer has the rights to use the STA logo in their marketing or promotional activities.  Some may choose to print the logo on a label, marketing materials or display it on their web site.

The STA program has a list of “approved laboratories” on its web site http://compostingcouncil.org/labs/

Did You Know? (For Compost Customers)


  • Whether or not you are an STA participant, if you are sending in compost samples to the lab, make sure you send enough sample to us.  With our C10 compost test packages we normally ask for 2-3 sealable gallon Ziploc bags of material.  Not having enough sample can also affect turnaround times.  Germinations take quite a bit of material and if we don’t have enough, we have to complete all the other analyses first before starting the germination test.


  • If you are analyzing for fecal coliform, the EPA holding time is 24 hours, so please ship the sample on blue ice packs to us in a cooler using overnight shipping for compliance.


  • A&L Great Lakes Laboratories has a cooler exchange program.  We will automatically ship you back the cooler to you so that you are ready for your next sampling event.

  • We have a dedicated Customer Service Representative who ensures your compost sample is processed correctly.  For any sample processing, handling or turnaround time questions, feel free to contact Julie Bruggner (260) 483-4759 jbruggner@algreatlakes.com

  •  For further questions about the STA program, pricing, test packages or requirements, account creation or compost testing in general, contact Greg Neyman (260) 483-4759 gregn@algreatlakes.com

February 28, 2017

Employee Spotlight: Meet Amanda Grant

Amanda is a Microbiology Lab Technician and conducts testing on compost samples, checking for the level of microbes to make sure they are safe to be sold to the public.

Amanda wanted to be one of two things growing up: a zookeeper or biologist. She spent some time working at a zoo right after earning her degree in biology, but she enjoys the detail and processes involved in lab work.

In her spare time, she likes to be outdoors- hiking, camping and birdwatching.

She likes being a part of our team because it's family oriented, down the earth, and her teammates are not afraid to get dirty (pun intended). "We are also very customer oriented. This is the most customer oriented place I’ve ever worked for. We are all about providing the best service no matter what."

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

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