The science of a soil test

With harvests winding down, the farm’s focus might turn away from the fields. According to specialists at the University of Missouri, now is just as good as ever to find out what your ground needs.

One way to start planning for next year’s growing season is to get a soil test, and MU’s Soil Fertility Labs are there to help.

A soil test is like taking an inventory of nutrients available to plants—which area is too high, too low or just right. While plant growth and prior yields may offer clues to nutrient availability, a producer won’t precisely know until they test their soil.

“We can tell you what is going on below your feet,” said David Dunn, MU Extension soil testing lab associate. “We are all about giving recommendations for farmers to achieve the yields they want.”

Dunn helps manage the Soil Fertility Lab at the Fisher Delta Research Center, one of the many Agricultural Research Centers operated by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. A second lab is located on the MU Campus in Columbia.

Each year the lab in Portageville analyzes around 10,000 soil samples. With each test, producers get a detailed report on pH levels; available phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium; organic matter; acidity and cation exchange. These basic tests provide the necessary data to develop nitrogen, phosphate, potash and agriculture lime recommendations for intended crops.

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