February 24, 2021

It's Calendar Time Again!

Have you enjoyed our customer photography calendars the past few years? Do You have photos to share? We are excited to announce that we are launching our fifth year of the customer photo 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 news@algreatlakes.com along with your name, address, and brief note about the picture(s). Please submit your pictures in the highest resolution possible before September 15th. We will select our favorite pictures and invite our followers on Facebook vote on their favorite to be on the cover of the 2022 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 September 15, 2021
  • One entry per person; however 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 29, 2021

What is ENR?

In some nutrient recommendation strategies and on some soil test reports, there is a column labeled “ENR”. What is ENR?

ENR stands for Estimated Nitrogen Release. This is a calculated estimation of how much potential nitrogen may be released from soil organic matter (SOM) in one year. The actual amount and time of nitrogen release is dependent on the composition of the organic matter, soil moisture, and weather.

ENR is a calculation from the soil organic matter value on a soil test. Soil organic matter is reported as the percent of organic matter by weight. ENR is a calculation that is based on a couple of basic concepts regarding soil and the composition of soil organic matter. While these concepts are rooted in scientific research, they can vary.

The first concept explains that an acre of soil weighs approximately 2 million pounds. This is a rough estimation of the soil weight that is tilled/turned when an acre is plowed to the depth of a “standard” moldboard plow, which is assumed to be 6 2/3 inches. Using this standard value of 2,000,000 pounds per acre, we can approximate the amount of soil organic matter in an acre of soil, based on the percent of organic matter found through a soil test. For example, if a soil has an organic matter level of 3%, we can use the 2,000,000 pounds per acre value for the weight of the soil to calculate the total amount of soil organic matter per acre:

2,000,000 x (3/100) = 60,000 pounds of soil organic matter

The second concept states OM is approximately 5% nitrogen by weight. This may vary slightly based on several factors including soil type, management, and composition of the soil organic matter. From our previous example using soil with a 3% organic matter level:

2,000,000 x (3/100) = 60,000 pounds of soil organic matter (SOM)

60,000 pounds SOM x (5/100) =  3,000 pounds of N/acre

While this seems like an impressive value, unfortunately not all the nitrogen is available to the growing crop in a given year. The release of nitrogen from soil organic matter, a process referred to as mineralization, is a biological process that is facilitated by microorganisms within the soil. These microorganisms break down soil organic matter and, in the process, release nitrogen (along with other nutrients) into the soil solution where they can be utilized by the crop. However, the rate of mineralization is not particularly fast, and is governed by many factors. This makes it quite variable year to year. Therefore, it is assumed that only 2 to 4% of the nitrogen in OM will become available in any given year. From our previous example:

2,000,000 x (3/100) = 60,000 pounds of soil organic matter (SOM)

60,000 pounds SOM x (5/100) =  3,000 pounds of N/acre

3,000 pounds N/acre x (2/100) = 60 pounds available N

3,000 pounds N/acre x (4/100) = 120 pounds available N

60-120 pounds available N / acre


Weather conditions that promote strong plant growth, such as warm temperatures and adequate soil moisture, are also beneficial in the conversion of SOM to plant available nitrogen. Therefore, in those cropping years where weather conditions favor strong yields, they also tend to favor higher mineralization rates. These factors cause greater releases of N from soil organic matter. This greater rate of N release can therefore serve as a kind of buffer, supplying more N to a crop that could essentially benefit from higher nitrogen rates.

Determining a nitrogen application rate that is economically and agronomically optimum can be challenging when the soil has a higher OM content. For example, the nitrogen release from organic matter in a field with 6% OM can range from 120 pounds/acre to 240 pounds/acre. The variation of the nitrogen released is often weather dependent during the growing season and causes challenge when determining nitrogen application rates.

* Update - Organic soils, those with greater than 20% SOM, were able to develop over time due to reduced SOM decomposition. Saturated soil conditions for a portion of the year slows SOM decomposition in organic soils, thus reducing the mineralization of nitrogen. Those organic soils that have artificial drainage may experience a higher ENR than those that are not drained, but at a level less than determined by the ENR calculation.

January 29, 2021

Are You Putting Enough Soil in Your Sample Bags?

Most commercial or university soil testing laboratories provide soil sample bags to you at little to no cost. Every lab designs its sample bags with its own logo and contact information in the hope that a sample will be collected, placed in that bag, and sent back to the lab for analysis. While each lab’s sample bags may look unique, most sample bags have one common feature, a line or some other indication of how much sample should be put in the bag. So why is sample volume so important?

The most obvious reason that a lab indicates this volume of soil, is that we need enough material to analyze. We also like to have some extra in case a component needs to be reanalyzed for quality control purposes or should the customer request additional testing.

The less obvious, but possibly more important reason to fill the sample bag to the indicated line is to obtain a valid representation of the area sampled. Soil nutrient levels can vary greatly even in a very small area. By collecting enough cores to fill the bag, your results are more apt to represent the true average of the area sampled. Research has shown that a minimum of 8 individual soil cores need to be collected to make a single sample. Collecting fewer than 8 cores increases the potential that a single unusually high or low testing core will skew the results.

January 28, 2021

The 2020 Annual Soil Test Summaries Are Available

The 2020 annual soil test summaries are available on the ALGL website at https://algreatlakes.com/pages/2020-soil-test-summaries. Your regional ALGL sales agronomist has access to regional trend graphs that show the change in soil test values from 1996 to 2020 for the Great Lakes Region, and individual states, that they can share for use in presentations and meetings as needed.

Average Bray-p! soil test levels in the Great Lakes Region form 1996 to 2020

For those customers accounts that analyze more than 20 soil samples or 10 plant samples a year, soil and tissue test summaries are available for the account. Those summaries can be found on eDocs at https://docs.algreatlakes.com/login.aspx. Be sure to adjust the eDocs’s data filters to include “Summary” as the document type and the time filter to span December 31, when the reports were posted.

These same customers will also find a trend graph of these summaries over time, and a soil sampling history report that summarizes all the field that were sample in that given year. These soil sampling history reports are a great tool when routinely sampling on a 2-, 3-, or 4-year standard rotation. For example, when preparing to soil sample in 2021 on a 2-year cycle, go back to the 2019 Soil Sampling History Report for a list of fields that are due to be resampled in 2021.

January 14, 2021

Maintaining Quality Data

So, who regulates agricultural lab quality? What federal government agency assures that an individual lab subscribes and adhere to a specific quality standard? Many of you reading might be surprised that there is no defined government regulatory agency for the agricultural laboratory industry, but this done not mean there are no rules or standards.

Some states require that if you perform agricultural analysis, that you be certified within that state. Wisconsin takes a step further and specifies the lab methods that must be followed as part of the state’s nutrient management regulation. These state certifications can be simply a permit process, other states verify that the soil test results fall within an acceptable range. For example, the state of Iowa specifies that “laboratories must achieve an average score of 80% or greater in the Iowa program of the NAPT soil Testing Proficiency Program” on 6 key lab analysis.

Within the agricultural laboratory industry, proficiency programs are the fundamental way to validate lab data. While these programs are voluntary, they are required for a lab to be certified in some states. The larger reason for a lab to participate and pass is to prove the lab produces quality data. Quality data is the terms of repeatable constancy over time.

Labs that participate in a soil testing proficiency program will receive a set of soil samples. These samples have been selected from around the country for specific parameters by the proficiency organization staff. A wide variety of soils are selected to thoroughly test the labs ability to produce soil test results that match the proficiency testing organizations results. Different standardized methods are used in different regions for the county, so the proficiency organization determines acceptable value range for all of the standardized lab methods. The proficiency program identifies an acceptable range of soil test results and then scores each laboratory as to how close the lab results match up with the proficiency organizations results. Often these test samples are sent to the participating labs quarterly. Labs must meet these quality levels for an extended period of time to earn and retain certification by a state or proficiency program.

In short, those labs that display current state and proficiency program certification are showing that they can reliably produce data that matches set quality guidelines.

For more information on the proficiency programs ALGL participates in go to: Certifications and Credentials | A&L Great Lakes and click on the links to learn more about the individual proficiency programs.

January 12, 2021

Industry Group Formed to Advance Agriculture Nutrient Management in the United States

December 2020 - Bloomington, Illinois - The Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association (ALTA) is an industry organization committed to ensuring the quality of data to agricultural communities through encouraging the development, use, and acceptance of proven agricultural testing methods.

  • In December 2020, the Illinois Soil Testing Association became the Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association.
  • The Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association's primary objective is to promote high-quality testing data to improve farm production, profitability, and sustainability.
  • To meet this objective, the Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association offers two Certifications: ALTA- SAC (Soil Analysis Certification) and ALTA-PAC (Plant Analysis Certification)

As a result of continued growth over the last 30 years, the Illinois Soil Testing Association (ISTA) re-branded itself as the Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association (ALTA) in December 2020. This industry organization will be a leader in ensuring consistency, precision, and accuracy across agriculture laboratories nationally. ALTA plans to reach this goal through outreach, education, and certification programs.

"The Illinois Soil Testing Association (ISTA) has changed its name to the Agricultural Laboratory Testing Association (ALTA) to reflect the scope and territories that our membership serves.  Our member laboratories offer a broad range of agricultural testing and services across the United States.  ALTA's mission is to support all types of agricultural testing laboratories so they may provide the best analysis and information.  We will support that mission by providing education and certification programs that help ensure quality and innovation in our industry."

Tim Smith, CropSmith, Inc., Laboratory Owner, ALTA President, Farmer City, IL

ALTA has developed two certification programs, one for soil analysis (SAC, Soil Analysis Certification) and another for plant tissue testing (PAC, Plant Analysis Certification). These programs were initially created by the Illinois Soil Testing Association and have earned respect in the region for creating a high standard for testing quality.  These programs' objective is to assure soil and plant analysis provided to Ag producers nationally are within laboratory statistical norms (consistent, precise, and accurate).  Based on this premise, certifications help ensure labs follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) code 590 of nutrient management guidelines for testing and recommendations.

"ALTA is a very important organization for our company because it provides validity to our test data and demonstrates to our customers that we can produce accurate results.  The meetings offer members targeted education and a collective forum for the exchange of ideas focused on the agricultural laboratory."

Greg Neyman, A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Director – Green Industries Division, Fort Wayne, IN

 ALTA is positioned to lead the agriculture testing industry nationally, driving the discussion around how to ensure precision and accuracy of agriculture data moving into the next decade. Providing educational opportunities for members, engaging the public, and offering relevant certification programs are methods ALTA will help member companies grow while creating a sustainable future.

"The ALTA organization provides a forum for agronomists and testing laboratories to educate and advance Agriculture nutrient management in the United States.  Through workshops and laboratory certification program for soil and plant analysis, ALTA sets a standard of professional excellence."

Robert O. Miller, Ph.D. ALP Technical Director, former Affiliate Professor Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

 In 1981 the Illinois Soil Testing Association (ISTA) was founded to help address Illinois growers' need for quality soil test information.  Over time the group grew to represent the region and was re-branded in 2020 as the Agriculture Laboratory Testing Association (ALTA).  ALTA's primary objective is to promote the interests of the agriculture testing industry in the United States and promote high-quality testing data that will improve farm production, profitability, and sustainability. ALTA works towards this goal by creating educational opportunities and laboratory certification programs.

Find Out More:  https://www.alta.ag/


December 21, 2020

Living Up to the Boy Scout Motto

A quick count through the calendar pages reveals 100 days until April 1 and the Boy Scout motto would remind us to plan well and be prepared to handle the spring planting tasks as accurately and efficiently as possible.  Much time and effort has gone into cropping plans, seed selection, soil sampling, fertilizer plans and data analysis since harvest but here are a few additional items that might pay big dividends during the heat of the battle next spring.

Create a list of the key vendors and retailers that will be involved with your operation and reserve some time to visit with each one and discuss your communication plans.  Employees that you have worked with in the past may have taken other responsibilities and new employees may be filling important service rolls and will play an important role this cropping season.  It is a good time to update phone contacts, email addresses and learn the preferred method of contact and the main responsibilities for key individuals.

Provide your vendors with names and contact information for your staff and their responsibilities such as field prep, fertilizer applications, herbicide management, planter operation and data management.

Discuss field maps and cropping plans with each one and point out best routes to access fields, best field entrances, preferred loading areas and best places to park equipment that is left overnight or parked during a weather delay.  Remind them of safety concerns such as overhead powerlines that may interfere with applicator booms, narrow field entrances and low weight capacity bridges that may not be suitable for trucks and equipment.  As much as possible, try to direct traffic away from homes, children’s play areas and light vehicle traffic.  Keep heavy equipment away from underground obstacles such as water meters, septic systems, drainage systems or other utilities that may not be designed to support heavy loads.

Consider data handling and transfer for items such as variable rate maps/recommendations, planter files, hybrid and variety selections and any operating files that may be needed for herbicide applications.  Consider sharing desired GPS headings, field obstacles or auto steer navigational information that will assist vendors in their work.  Have a plan in place for sharing needed electronic data with the proper operators at the proper time so equipment is prepared to run when the time is right.

Please keep the lines of communication open and help everyone implement the plan as safely and efficiently as possible this spring.

December 16, 2020

Maybe 2019 Was Not So Bad and The Bright Side of 2020... Agronomically That Is!

In past years, the end of the calendar year for agronomists and producers has been denoted by the beginning of the winter meeting season at the conclusion of the growing season. Like many things in 2020, the meeting season is a bit different this year. The in-person meetings have been canceled or replaced with virtual experiences, so the sharing of observations and lessons learn from the 2020 growing season is very different.  So, what was some of the big trends in soil testing for 2020 and did the agronomy fears at the conclusion of 2019 occur? We’re glad you asked!

The late fall of 2019 soil sampling continued uninterrupted into an early spring of 2020. Traditionally soil sampling increases at a rapid rate in late September and builds though October. The sample volume reaches a peak in mid to late October, then begins decreasing sometime late November. Sample numbers continue to slowly decline until weather conditions stops soil sampling in mid to late December. The mild 2019/2020 winter, combined with the late 2019 harvest, led to a slow ramp up in mid-November and samples continued to arrive at the lab at a steady rate all winter. The was no clear end to fall 2019 sampling, nor a defined beginning of 2020 spring sampling.  The fall 2020 soil sampling season has been, and continues to be strong, following a more “normal” sampling season. Something that has not happened 3 or 4 years.

One of the main concerns from the wet fall of 2019 was the potential for soil compaction. The wet year set the stage for compaction to occur during both the 2019 planting and fall harvest. The wet fall of 2019 prevented proper fall tillage to correct compaction from 2019, let alone compaction created in 2018 or 2017. The preplant expectation was that soil compaction would negatively impact on yield in 2020, especially if the weather pattern turned dry. For some areas 2020 was dry, but the reports of soil compaction related crop issues were not as severe as expected, leading to near average yields for  most growers.  There are many theories as to why the impacts of soil compaction was less than expected, they mostly revolve around overall improvements in soil management leading to improved soil structure in recent years. Producers took what preventative steps they could to reduce the impact of soil compaction in 2020 and it appears to have worked. Those areas that were unable to plant in 2019 were able to perform deep or primary tillage in the late summer early fall before the wet conditions began.

Also, many growers focused on earlier maturing varieties to avoid another late fall. This was a positive management strategy as many portions of the ALGL trade region ran behind schedule on GDU accumulation in the summer of 2020. With the timely 2020 harvest allowing for well timed soil sampling and fall field work, along with growing positively in the grain markets, the overall optimism for improved farm incomes in the coming years is growing. While we may want to forget 2019 for the agronomic challenges and likewise push 2020 from our memory due to Covid 19, that may not be wise for future management.

Inconstancies in soil sampling can lead to variation in soil test values over time. Challenging weather conditions in the spring and/or fall soil sampling seasons from 2017 though the spring of 2020 may lead to slight variations in soil test results. In the future when comparing soil test data sets that include samples collected in this time frame, the challenges of these year may shed some light on soil sample variances. More frequent soil sampling can reduce the impact of these variances by adding more data points to the analysis.  Repeated soil sampling provides a check and balance approach to soil fertility management.

While we all have been impacted by the Covid Pandemic, the bright point was the timely fall harvest leading to some very good conditions to complete fall soil sampling, perform fall tillage in good to near idea conditions, plant cover crops, and make timely fertilizer/lime applications.  The condition of the soil samples coming into the lab were some of the best sample quality we have seen in the past 3 to 4 years. Hopefully the fall soil sampling season of 2020 will provide some stability to long terms soil fertility management.

December 10, 2020

More Changes to the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations

The finalized document for the latest revision of the Tri-State Fertilizers recommendations for Indiana, Ohio and Michigan has been released. Various aspects of the revised recommendations have been released in small segments over the past 2 years. The summaries of the changes/updates to the recommendations prior to the release of the final document have noted that soil pH and liming recommendations would not change from the previous version released in 1995. Upon review of the final document, notable changes have been made to the university recommendations for soil pH management and lime application rates.

  • Now there are a set of lime recommendations for Ohio and separate set for Indiana and Michigan.
  • Lime rate recommendations for mineral soils, those soils with less than 20% organic matter and a cation exchange capacity of greater than 5 meq/100cc, have changed.
    • Indiana and Michigan lime rate recommendations have different values in the equations to calculate lime rates and rates have been increased by 10-20%.
    • The Ohio lime rate recommendations for mineral soils have new equations to calculate lime rates and rates have been decreased by 30-35%.
  • Organic soil lime rates, for those soils with greater than 20% organic matter, have changed.
    • Michigan and Indiana lime rates have increased 25-100%. In the previous version of the recommendations there was one equation for organic soils, now there are three.
    • Ohio lime rates have decreased 30-35% and the publication does not offer equations to calculate rates.
  • Weakly buffered soils were not specially defined in the previous recommendation document, but often classified through interpretation as soils with cation exchange capacities of 6 meq/100cc or less. The revised recommendation set reference to weakly buffered soils as those with a cation exchange capacity of less than 5 meq/100cc . The adoption of Mehlich 3 as the extractant used to determine potassium, calcium and magnesium levels will led to a 15-18% increase in cation exchange capacity by summation values reported on soil tests.

The final release the “Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, and Alfalfa” can be found at https://extensionpubs.osu.edu/search.php?search_query=974&section=product.

December 09, 2020

Not All Manure Is the Same – Poultry Litter

The nutrient characteristics of a manure is dependent the species of animal, the diet of the animals, and how the manure is handled. In recent years poultry litter has been elevated to a unique value status among the manures. It has gone from a waste product to a commodity of value, in some cases, garnering a premium over an equal amount of nutrient in the form of commercial fertilizer.  View full article →

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