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Soil test to reduce fertilizer expenses


Mon, Sep 12th, 2011
Posted in Agriculture

High fertilizer prices appeared a couple of years ago and have not left us. This past week I was talking to truck driving hauling potash. He understood the potash he was hauling was about $150 per ton higher than last spring!

Soil testing is the first and best step you can take to reduce fertilizer costs. Producers who are concerned about high fertilizer costs and who are not soil sampling are not really serious about saving money.

Nitrogen credit for previous legume crops is one of your great bargains in a crop rotation. A first year nitrogen credit of 40 lbs. /acre for soybeans, 150 lbs/acre with 4 or more alfalfa plants/ft.sg., 100 lbs. /acre if 2-3 alfalfa plants/ft.sg., and 40 lbs/acre with one or fewer plants/ft.sg. Red Clover has first year credit of 75 lbs/acre.

Although the research is currently being replicated, the generally accepted standards for nitrogen credits in corn planted two years after the legume are 75 lbs/acre with 4 or more alfalfa plants/ft.sg., 50 lbs./acre if 2-3 alfalfa plants/ft.sg., and 0 lbs/acre with one or fewer plants/ft.sg. Red clover has second year credit of 35 lbs/acre of nitrogen.

Fortunately, we still have livestock in Fillmore and Houston Counties; take advantage of this manure. If possible, apply manure on fields with lower phosphate and potassium levels. Then apply the manure to meet your crop nitrogen needs. Consider selling manure if your field's P and K values are high, and use the money from the sale towards N-only fertilizer.

Set realistic yield goals. Average five years of yield data after omitting yield values that look abnormally high or low. Then set a goal that exceeds the average by 10 percent to 15 percent. Utilize the new Minnesota Guidelines for corn production as it tracks both price of N and price of corn and the producers comfort level of risk in the amount to apply. The N-Rate Calculator can be found at http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/soilfertility/nrate.aspx. Newer genetics also seem to utilize nitrogen more efficiently than older hybrids.

Soil sampling can be done by a number of local elevators and crop production companies. If you want to do your own sampling, the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory is a good option for you. The instructions sheets and sample bags are available at both the Extension Offices in Preston and Caledonia. The Regular Series test which includes P, K, pH, and percent Organic Matter, is $9.00. You will receive a report and recommendation depending on crop history and your proposed crops. If you suspect some other specific problems additional tests are possible for Zinc, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Boron, Calcium & Magnesium, and Soluble Salts. A spring Nitrate Test is also offered.

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