This time of year many farmers are thinking about harvest. It’s also a good time to evaluate crop performance versus input costs and consider adjustments you might want to make for next year. Managing nutrients are one important factor to consider in optimizing plant and soil health. Although nutrients come in many different forms they can sometimes be over applied and end up degrading water quality and hurting the bottom line of the business. In other cases insufficient nutrients are available to carry the crop through and as a result diminished crop yields and/or quality also can impact the bottom line of the business.
Soil testing, nutrient management and cover crops are three tools that can help you make the most of your nutrient dollars while improving soil health and setting the stage for the improved crop performance for the next growing season.
Soil Testing… A routine soil test is a tool to help you manage the mineral nutrition of your growing plants. It is a quick and inexpensive way to check the levels of essential soil nutrients. You simply take a sample of your soil and send it to a lab for analysis. Homeowners, farmers, and others often test soil from their gardens, yards, and fields. The soil tests indicate soil pH and the levels of nutrients that are available for plant growth. A soil test lets you know whether you need to add more nutrients and how much lime and fertilizer, if any, to add. Test results provide information that can save you money and prevent water pollution.
Nutrient management… Nutrient Management is the science or practice of providing appropriate soil fertility sources to fields for crop and forage production. It consists of managing the amount, source, placement (method of application), and timing of plant nutrients and soil amendments. Nutrient Management is based upon Soils Testing. Soils Test results indicate the current fertility state of a given field. University recommendations based upon these results tell a producer approximately how much of each of the major plant nutrients are needed for optimum plant production.
Cover Crop…Think of cover crops not as the end of this growing season but the start of the next one. Cover crops can effectively reduce erosion, while increasing soil organic matter. However, most pertinent to this discussion is the fact that cover crops can also effectively scavenge any remaining soil nutrients before they are lost by leaching. With the high cost of inputs it becomes more important to find ways to conserve fertilizer and/or reduce the need for commercial fertilizers. Using cover crops enhances nutrient recycling by taking up nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil profile and potentially end up in the groundwater and local lakes and streams.
If you need soil test boxes, help in interpreting your soil results or cover crop recommendations please stop by the Somerset County NRCS office and ask to speak to Ron, Nick or Laura.