Home » Soil Sampling

Category Archives: Soil Sampling

ABOUT ME

osunpk

osunpk

Since 2008 I have served as the Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist for Oklahoma State University. I work in Wheat, Corn, Sorghum, Cotton, Soybean, Canola, Sweet Sorghum, Sesame, Pasture/Hay. My work focuses on providing information and tools to producers that will lead to improved nutrient management practices and increased profitability of Oklahoma production agriculture

View Full Profile →

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,037 other followers

Soil sample handling practices can affect soil nitrate test accuracy

From Guest Authors,
Bryan Rutter, PhD student and Soil Testing Lab Manager, Kansas State University
Dr. Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Soil Fertility Specialist, Kansas State University

The accuracy of a soil test is limited, in part, by the quality of the tested sample. For this reason, strong emphasis is placed on ensuring representative samples are collected in the field. However, these samples must also be handled properly after they have been collected.

Soils are home to a diverse population of microorganisms, many of which help decompose crop residue and cycle nutrients in soils. This nutrient cycling is crucial for crop production, but can skew soil test results if it continues in soil samples after they have been collected.

Microorganisms drive the soil nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen (N) cycle in soils is particularly complex and is strongly influenced by microbial activity and, therefore, temperature and soil moisture conditions. Bacteria and fungi consume organic material and use carbon as an energy source. During this process, N contained in the organic matter undergoes several transformations, ultimately converting it to ammonia. This conversion from organic-N to inorganic-N (NH4+, ammonium) is called “mineralization.” Plants can then take up the ammonium (NH4+), or converted to nitrate (NO3) by certain bacteria through a process known as “nitrification”.

The microbial activity requires moisture and heat, and the processes described above happen more quickly in warm, wet soils than in cold, dry soils. Microbial activity does not stop just because a sample has been collected and put in a bag. This activity continues as long as the environmental conditions are favorable. As a result, soil tests for plant-available N have the potential to change substantially if samples are not handled properly. This is an important consideration for growers because these soil test results are used to determine the profile-N credit and, ultimately, adjust N fertilizer recommendations.

Research study on soil sample storage

A recent study at the K-State Soil Testing Lab illustrates what can happen if sample submission is delayed.  For this study, soil was collected from the Agronomy North Farm (Manhattan, KS) and thoroughly mixed/sieved to homogenize the material. This soil was then placed into sample bags, which were randomly assigned to different combinations of storage temperature and duration. One set of samples was kept in a refrigerator while the other set was kept in a cargo box in a truck bed. To monitor changes in soil test levels over time, three sample bags were removed from the refrigerator and truck box every two days (48 hours) and tested in the lab.

Figure 1. Change in soil test nitrogen parameters over a 14-day storage period. Samples stored in an unrefrigerated cargo box are indicated by purple points. Samples stored in a refrigerator (38F) are indicated by grey points. Graphs by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Figure 1. Change in soil test nitrogen parameters over a 14-day storage period. Samples stored in an unrefrigerated cargo box are indicated by purple points. Samples stored in a refrigerator (38F) are indicated by grey points. Graphs by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Figure 2. Difference in the soil test nitrogen credits between refrigerated and unrefrigerated samples over a 14-day storage period. Profile-N credits assume a 24-inch profile soil sample depth, and are calculated as:  N ppm x 0.3 x 24 inches. Graph by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Take home points from the K-State Soil Testing Lab study:

  • Mineralization and nitrification led to more than a 3x increase in soil test nitrate in the undried and unrefrigerated “Truck Cargo Box” samples (purple points in Figure 1).
  • Soil test nitrogen did not change substantially in refrigerated samples.
  • Profile-N credits calculated from soil test N results were nearly 100 lbs of N/acre higher for the unrefrigerated samples (Figure 2).
  • Improper handling and storage of soil samples can dramatically reduce soil test accuracy and may lead to under or overfertilizing crops.

K-State Soil Testing Lab Recommendations

  • Submit soil samples to the lab as soon as possible, ideally on the same day they were collected.
  • If same-day submission is not possible, samples should be air-dried or placed in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees F or less.

Please see the accompanying article “The challenge of collecting a representative soil sample” for guidance on field soil sampling practices.

For detailed instructions on submitting soil samples to the K-State Soil Testing Lab, please see the accompanying article “Fall soil sampling: Sample collection and submission to K-State Soil Testing Lab”.

For detailed information on how N credits are calculated please see the MF-2586 fact sheet: “Soil Test Interpretations and Fertilizers Recommendations”.

Bryan Rutter, PhD student and Soil Testing Lab Manager
rutter@ksu.edu

Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Soil Fertility Specialist
ruizdiaz@ksu.edu

The original article can be found on the KSU Agronomy E-update site
https://eupdate.agronomy.ksu.edu/article_new/soil-sample-handling-practices-can-affect-soil-nitrate-test-accuracy-511-4

Phosphorus decisions, Is it worth cutting P?

With the current conditions and input cost many wheat producers are considering cutting back on inputs. I can’t disagree with the plan, but I would caution against what you cut. If you have read any of my past blogs, or seen me speak, you should know I’m all for cutting back on pre-plant nitrogen (N). Based on some recent trials I would not argue cutting the potassium (K) side, but phosphorus (P) that’s another story that we will walk through in this blog.

First and foremost, soil testing is the key to P management. If your soil test is below the critical threshold for the test you use, 32.5 for Mehlich 3 (M3P), then you need to add phos. We have enough work that shows current recommendations work for P in wheat. Reeds paper Evaluation of incorporated phosphorus fertilizer recommendations on no-till managed winter wheat Link to Paper goes over soil test recommendations in no-till and the recent double crop soybean project Double Crop P and K Blog highlights the importance of P fertility, regardless of yield level. Also if your soil test is below a 5.5 and you haven’t limed (Liming is the best solution, Band-aids not so cheap Blog ), then the next best option is adding additional P to alleviate the aluminum toxicity Band-aids for low pH Blog. In-short if the fields soil test P and or pH is below optimum you should not forgo P application.

But the primary reason I am writing this blog is for those looking at fields with composite soil test that is right around the critical thresholds, and they are trying to make the call on to apply P or not to apply P. Even on fields with soil test values in the good level, I am usually in favor of banding in-furrow fertilizer wheat, but not because of the same reasons I am for corn. With corn you are planting in cool soils and the availability of nutrients like P is lower in cool wet soils. For wheat cold soil isn’t the concern until we reach the end of the planting window. It will serve as a bit of a “pop-up” as the crop comes out of dormancy in the spring. I have also seen little to no value of N applied in furrow. I see same response to DAP (18-46-0), MAP (11-52-0), and TSP (0-46-0) when all applied at same rate of P. Meaning it was the P not N making the difference.

For me the reason I still recommend getting a little phosphate out even when the soil test comes back is that the great majority of fields have a large range of variability. Looking at a set of 650 grid sampled fields across Oklahoma and Kansas it showed on average soil pH 6.0 and M3P was 34 ppm. Both pH and P are at adequate/optimum levels. However, the average is usually somewhere between the low and high point and in this data set and the range of soil pH was 1.8 units and the range in M3P was 67 ppm. That meant on average of the 648 field with pH values the average difference between low pH and high pH was 1.8 units and the difference between low P and high P was 64 ppm.

Summary of grid soil sample data from fields in Oklahoma and Kansas. Data shared by participating farmers and consultants. Data presented is the number of fields in summarized for each variable, the Average value is what we expect as the average composited field value, the Range is the average difference between the min and the max of all fields.

The field below is from Kingfisher county and was sampled at a resolution of 10 acres per sample. This is a fairly course resolution for grid sampling but provides a great view of how variable our soils can be. The field average pH is 5.3, which is below optimum but our aluminum tolerant wheats would be able to handle fairly well. For the P the average is 22 ppm which needs about 18 lbs of P2O5 to max yields. If the farmer applied a flat rate of 20 lbs there would be significant forage loss on about 65% of the field, for grain only about 45% of the field due to underapplication of P. Note that low P and low pH are not correlated well, meaning the areas low in pH are not always low in P.

Example of a grid soil sampled field from west central Oklahoma. Field sampled at a 10 ac resolution. Even at such a course sampling; soil pH averaged 5.3 with range of 4.7 to 6.8, Soil test P average 20 ppm with a range of 7 to 40 ppm.

Banding P makes it more efficient because it slows the rate of tie. However, we have plenty data that says broadcast applied P is still a great option, even after planting. So what are my take homes from this blog?

First: If you are grazing wheat get down 40-50 lbs of N pre. But I have plenty of data the pre-plant N on grain only wheat is not needed. I have the same amount of data that shows the only value of in-furrow N for grain only is that it forces you to plant more seeds, because it just lowers stand.

Second: When it comes to wheat pay attention to Phosphorus and soil pH. Even our acid tolerant wheats preform better in neutral soil pHs, especially forage wise.

Third: A composite soil sample is an AVERAGE of the field. If your average is right at the ok level (pH of 5.6ish and M3P of 30 ppm), then half of your field is below optimum and will benefit from P.

Fourth: If you can band P great, but if you cant broadcast is still a viable option. Do Not Skip P when soil test says there is a need.

Questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu

Soil Acidity and Cotton Production

Raedan Sharry, Precision Nutrient Management Ph.D. student
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist

Cotton production in Oklahoma has expanded the past decade into areas which other production systems such as continuous wheat may have traditionally dominated. Fields that have been managed for continuous wheat production may have become acidic in response to management practices, such as the use of ammoniacal nitrogen fertilizers. In response to the acidification of these soils it may be important to recognize and understand the potential impacts of soil acidification on cotton production.

To better document the impact of soil pH on cotton lint yield and quality a study was conducted over the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons at two locations: Stillwater, OK (EFAW farm) and Perkins, OK. Soil pH in these experiments were adjusted to a depth of approximately 6 inches using aluminum sulfate (acidifying) and hydrated lime (alkalinizing). All three locations were planted to two varieties; NexGen 3930 and Deltapine 1612 at a rate of approximately 35,000 seeds per acre, into plots with soils ranging in pH from 4.0 to 8.0.

In season measurements taken included stand count, plant height, node count and NDVI (normalized difference vegetative index. All four in season measurements demonstrated a significant critical threshold in which soil pH negatively impacted crop performance. Stand was significantly decreased at a soil pH of 5.3 or lower. This trend is displayed in Figure 1. Plant height and node count depicted in figures 2 and 3 respectively were both significantly decreased when soil pH dropped below 5.3 and 4.9, while NDVI began to deteriorate around a pH of 5.1 (Figure 4).  Response to soil pH level was also visually observable as shown by Figure 5 from the Perkins 2019 location.

Figure 1. Average plant stand per 10ft of row when all three sites of a soil pH and cotton experiment were combined.
Figure 2. Relationship between soil pH and plant height across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.3)
Figure 3. Relationship between soil pH and node count across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=4.9)
Figure 4. Relationship between soil pH and NDVI across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.1)
Figure 5. Side by side comparison of Deltapine 1612 and NextGen 3930 across a range of pH levels at the Perkins, OK 2019 site .

Yield levels across this experiment ranged from 0 to 1284 lbs. of lint per acre. In this work yield is reported as relative yield. To calculate relative yield the yield of each plot is normalized to the average of the three highest yields for that site. This method of reporting yield response allows this work to be applied across a range of yield environments.

Figure 6. Relationship between soil pH and relative yield across all 3 sites in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical threshold: pH=5.4)

When all sites and cultivars were combined relative yield reached a plateau at approximately 73% of yield with a critical threshold observed at a pH of 5.4. Below this critical threshold yield decreased at a rate of 37% per point of pH decline. This equates to 15% yield loss at a pH of 5.0, 33% yield loss at a pH of 4.5, and 52% yield loss at a pH of 4.5. This relationship is depicted in Figure 6. It is important to note that yield was 0 when pH was 4.3 in two plots. This represents the possibility for total crop failure when planting into very acidic conditions.

Differences in relative yield between cultivars were insignificant. However, further investigation may produce a significant difference. Critical threshold for the DP 1612 and NG 3930 cultivars were 6.1 and 5.2 respectively. This suggests that there may be value in further examining the influence of genetics on cotton response to soil acidity.

Figure 7. Relationship between soil pH and relative yield across all 3 sites and separated by cultivar in a soil pH and cotton experiment. (Critical pH threshold: DP 1612=6.1, NG 3930=5.2)

SUMMARY

              The influence of soil pH level on cotton productivity is confirmed by this study. All three sites evaluated provided a strong correlation between soil pH and lint yield, as well as the in-season growth parameters measured. While this study is likely to be expanded to another location to provide a more robust evaluation of the potential impact of soil acidity on cotton, the current dataset provides ample evidence to conclude that soil acidity is likely to be detrimental to cotton production in the southern plains. Soil pH levels below 5.5 appear to provide the greatest opportunity for yield loss as depicted above. Lint quality measurements taken in the study (micronaire, length, uniformity, and strength) showed no consistent trends in the relationship between quality parameters and soil pH suggesting that soil acidity had a limited influence on lint quality characteristics. Cotton response to soil pH is likely to be influenced by the environment of a specific location and growing season. This underlines the importance of understanding the soil properties that negatively impact productivity, such as the presence of toxic forms of aluminum or manganese. It is also important to highlight the possibility of acidic conditions significantly affecting the ability of the crop to access important nutrients such as phosphorus. Under acidic conditions cotton productivity is likely to be significantly decreased unless soils are neutralized using a soil amendment such as lime.

Project Supported by the
Oklahoma Cotton Council
Cotton Incorporated
Oklahoma Fertilizer Checkoff Program

The challenge of collecting a representative soil sample

Guest Author, Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist Kansas State University

At first glance, soil sampling would seem to be a relatively easy task. However, when you consider the variability that likely exists within a field because of inherent soil formation factors and past production practices, the collection of a representative soil sample becomes more of a challenge.

Before heading to the field to take the sample, be sure to have your objective clearly in mind. For instance, if all you want to learn is the average fertility level of a field to make a uniform maintenance application of P or K, then the sampling approach would be different than sampling for pH when establishing a new alfalfa seeding or sampling to develop a variable rate P application map.

In some cases, sampling procedures are predetermined and simply must be followed. For example, soil tests may be required for compliance with a nutrient management plan or environmental regulations associated with confined animal feeding operations. Sampling procedures for regulatory compliance are set by the regulatory agency and their sampling instructions must be followed exactly. Likewise, when collecting grid samples to use with a spatial statistics package for drawing nutrient maps, sampling procedures specific to that program should be followed.

 

Figure 1. The level of accuracy of the results of a soil test will depend, in part, on how many subsamples were taken to create the composite sample. In general, a composite sample should consist of 15 or more subsamples. For better accuracy, 20-30 cores, or subsamples, should be taken and combined into a representative sample. F

Regardless of the sampling objectives or requirements, some sampling practices should be followed:

  • A soil sample should be a composite of many cores to minimize the effects of soil variability. Take a minimum of 12 to 15 cores from a relatively small area (two to four acres). Taking 20-30 cores will provide results that are more accurate. Take a greater number of cores on larger fields than smaller fields, but not necessarily in direct proportion to the greater acreage. A single core is not an acceptable sample.
  • Use a consistent sampling depth for all cores because pH, organic matter, and nutrient levels often change with depth. Match sampling depth to sampling objectives. K-State recommendations call for a sampling depth of two feet for the mobile nutrients – nitrogen, sulfur, and chloride. A six-inch depth is suggested for routine tests of pH, organic matter, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and zinc (Zn) (Figure 2).
  • When sampling a specific area, a zigzag pattern across the field is better than following planting/tillage pattern to minimize any past non-uniform fertilizer application/tillage effects. With a GPS system available, recording of core locations is possible. This allows future samples to be taken from the same locations in the field.
  • When sampling grid points for making variable rate nutrient application maps, collecting cores in a 5-10 foot radius around the center point of the grid is preferred for many spatial statistical software packages.
  • Avoid unusual spots obvious by plant growth and/or visual soil color/texture differences. If information on these unusual areas is desired, collect a separate composite sample from these spots.
  • If banded fertilizer has been used on the previous crop (such as strip tillage), then it is suggested that the number of cores taken should be increased to minimize the effect of an individual core on the composite sample results, and to obtain a better estimate of the average fertility for the field.
  • For permanent sod or long-term no-till fields where nitrogen fertilizer has been broadcast on the surface, a three- or four-inch sampling depth would be advisable to monitor surface soil pH

 

 

Figure 2. Consistency is sampling depth is particularly important for immobile nutrients like P. Stratification of nutrients and pH can be accentuated under reduced tillage.

Soil test results for organic matter, pH, and non-mobile nutrients (P, K, and Zn) change relatively slowly over time, making it possible to monitor changes if soil samples are collected from the same field following the same sampling procedures. However, there can be some seasonal variability and previous crop effects. Therefore, soil samples should be collected at the same time of year and after the same crop.

Soil test results for organic matter, pH, and non-mobile nutrients (P, K, and Zn) change relatively slowly over time, making it possible to monitor changes if soil samples are collected from the same field following the same sampling procedures. However, there can be some seasonal variability and previous crop effects. Therefore, soil samples should be collected at the same time of year and after the same crop.

Soil testing should be the first step for a good nutrient management program, but it all starts with the proper sample collection procedure. After harvest in the fall is good time for soil sampling for most limiting nutrients in Kansas.

For instructions on submitting soil samples to the K-State Soil Testing Lab, please see the accompanying article “Fall soil sampling: Sample collection and submission to K-State Soil Testing Lab” found in this eUpdate issue.

For any questions Contact.
Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist
ruizdiaz@ksu.edu

 

Soil sampling for pH and liming in continuous no-till fields

Quest Author, Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist Kansas State University

One question that commonly comes up with continuous no-till operations is: “How deep should I sample soils for pH?” Another common question is: “How should the lime be applied if the soil is acidic and the field needs lime?”.

Sampling depth in continuous no-till

Our standard recommendation for pH is to take one set of samples to a 0-6 inch depth. On continuous no-till fields where most or all of the nitrogen (N) is surface applied, we recommend taking a second sample to a 0-3-inch depth. We make the same recommendation for long-term pasture or grass hayfields, such as a bromegrass field that has been fertilized with urea annually for several years.

Nitrogen fertilizer is the primary driving force in lowering soil pH levels, so N application rates and methods must be considered when determining how deep to sample for pH. In no-till, the effects of N fertilizer on lowering pH are most pronounced in the area where the fertilizer is actually applied. In a tilled system, the applied N or acid produced through nitrification is mixed in through the action of tillage and distributed throughout the tilled area.

Where N sources such as urea or liquid UAN solutions are broadcast on the surface in no-till system, the pH effects of the acid formed by nitrification of the ammonium will be confined to the surface few inches of soil. Initially this may be just the top 1 to 2 inches but over time, and as N rates increase, the effect of acidity become more pronounced, and the pH drops at deeper depths (Figure 1). How deep and how quickly the acidity develops over time is primarily a function of N rate and soil CEC (cation exchange capacity), or buffering capacity.

Where anhydrous ammonia is applied, or liquid UAN banded with the strip-till below the surface, an acid zone will develop deeper in the soil. As with long-term surface applications, these bands will expand over time as more and more N fertilizer is placed in the same general area. The graphic below (Figure 1) illustrates the effect of repeated nitrogen and phosphorus application with strip-till in the same area in the row middle on a high CEC soil for more than 12 years.

Figure 1. Soil pH stratification after 25 years of no-till and surface nitrogen fertilizer application, and the effect of repeated fertilizer application with strip-till in the same area after 12 years.

Liming application methods in continuous no-till

Where do you place the lime in continuous no-till?

If you surface apply N, then surface apply the lime. That’s a simple but effective rule. But remember that surface-applied lime will likely only neutralize the acidity in the top 2-3 inches of soil. So if a producer hasn’t limed for 20 years of continuous no-till and has applied 100 to 150 pounds of N per year, there will probably be a 4-5 inch thick acid zone, and the bottom half of that zone may not be neutralized from surface-applied lime. So, if a producer is only able to neutralize the top 3 inches of a 5-inch deep surface zone of acid soil, would that suggest he needs to incorporate lime? Not really. Research has shown that as long as the surface is in an appropriate range and the remainder of the acid soil is above pH 5, crops will do fine.

Liming benefits crop production in large part by reducing toxic aluminum, supplying calcium and magnesium, and enhancing the activity of some herbicides. Aluminum toxicity doesn’t occur until the soil pH is normally below about 5.2 to 5.5 and KCl-extractable (free aluminum) levels are greater than 25 parts per million (ppm). At that pH the Al in soil solution begins to increase dramatically as pH declines further. Aluminum is toxic to plant roots, and at worse the roots would not grow well in the remaining acid zone.

This implies that the acid zones from ammonia or banded UAN are probably not a major problem. We have monitored ammonia bands in the row middles of long-term no-till for many years and while the pH dropped very low, we never saw any adverse impacts on the crop that would justify liming and using tillage to incorporate the lime. In fact, some nutrients such as zinc, manganese, and iron can become more available at low pH, which can be an advantage at times.

Yield enhancement is not the only concern with low-pH soils, however. Herbicide effectiveness must also be considered. The most commonly used soil-applied herbicide impacted by pH is atrazine. As pH goes down, activity and performance goes down. So in acidic soils, weed control may be impacted. We do see that happen in corn and sorghum production.

Liming products for no-till

When choosing a liming product, is there any value to using dolomitic lime (which contains a large percentage of magnesium in addition to calcium) over a purely calcium-based lime product?

Most Kansas soils have high magnesium content. So as long as we maintain a reasonable soil pH, there normally is enough magnesium present to supply the needs of a crop. Calcium content is normally significantly higher than magnesium, so calcium deficiency is very, very rare in Kansas. The soil pH would need to be below 4.5 before calcium deficiency would become an issue. Before calcium deficiency would occur, aluminum toxicity or manganese toxicity would be severely impacting crop growth. So producers really don’t have to worry about a deficiency of calcium or magnesium on most Kansas soils.

What about the use of pelletized lime as a pH management tool on no-till fields?

The idea has been around for a while to use pel-lime in low doses to neutralize the acidity created from nitrogen and prevent acid zones from developing. . Pel-lime is a very high-quality product, normally having 1800 to 2000 pounds of effective calcium carbonate (ECC) per ton, and can be blended with fertilizers such as MAP or DAP or potash easily. Therefore, if you apply enough product this can be an excellent source of lime. Lime can be from various sources and with different qualities. Consecutively, to ensure a standardized unit of soil-acidity neutralizing potential, we use units of ECC.

Summary

Applying N fertilizer to soil will cause the soil to become acidic over time. Placement of the applied N and the level of soil mixing done through tillage determine where the acid zones will develop. Make sure your soil testing program is focused on the area in the soil becoming acidic, and apply the lime accordingly.

 

For any questions Contact.
Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist
ruizdiaz@ksu.edu

Precision Nutrient Management in Forage Systems

Published in Progressive Forage http://www.progressiveforage.com/ 9.1.2016

First, let’s agree the term “precision” is relative. Forage is a diverse system with an even more diverse set of management strategies. Regardless, every manager should be constantly striving to improve the precision in which nutrients are managed. The ultimate goal of any precision nutrient management tool should be this: producing the highest quality output (in this case forage) with the least amount of input – ultimately, optimizing efficiencies and maximizing profits. Within this readership there are those who are soil sampling at a 1-acre resolution and others who have likely not pulled a soil sample in the past decade. For both spectrums we can make improvements – let’s start basic and move forward.

A soil sample should the basis for all nutrient management decisions. Is soil testing a perfected science? No, far from it. However, there must be a starting point. A soil sample is that first bit of information we can start with and the basic data collection for precision ag to make improved management decisions. When fertilizer is applied without a recent soil sample, it is done based upon pure guesswork. How many other management decisions are made on a farm or ranch by a guess?

The composite soil sample is a great start, but it is just that – a start. While there are some soils that are very uniform most are extremely variable. In a survey of 178 fields in the southern Great Plains on average the soil pH was 6.12; phosphorus (Mehlich 3 phosphorus [M3P] and Bray 1 phosphorus [B1P]) was 28 ppm while soil test potassium averaged 196 ppm. So on the average the primary components of soil fertility were okay. However, on average the 178 fields had a range in soil pH of 1.8 units, M3P and B1P both had range of a 52 ppm and STK had a range of 180 ppm.

Table 1 shows the minimum and maximum soil test values for the 178 fields.

  Average Range Min Max
Soil pH 6.12 1.77 5.23 7.01
Phosphorus 28 52 2 54
Potassium 197 180 107 287
Sulfur 15 24 3 27
Organic matter 1.9 1.2 1.3 2.5

 

This data helps support the concept that we should find ways to increase the resolution or decrease the number of acres represented by a single soil sample. Increasing soil sample resolution is typically done using one or two methods – zone or by grid.

Zone sampling

The basis of a zone sample is creating a smaller field. The biggest question with zones is how to draw the lines. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of possible methods, each having their own reasons and benefits. My basic recommendation is that before lines are drawn goals have to be established. For example, if phosphorus or soil pH management is important, the basis for the lines should be soil based. This could be based on soils map, soil texture, slope and on and on. If the target is improved nitrogen management, then the reason for drawing lines should be yield based. This could be based on yield maps, aerial images, historic knowledge or many soil parameters.

Why does it matter? Two reasons: First, across the broad spectrum of soils and environments two nutrients are hardly spatially correlated, which means the zone that is best at describing phosphorus variability does an extremely poor job describing potassium variability. Second, more theoretically the demand for nutrients are driven by different factors. Phosphorus (a soil immobile nutrient) fertilizer need is driven by the soil P concentration (look up Brays Sufficiency Concept). Many use yield as a parameter for phosphorus application, but this is not a plant need or even a yield maximizing practice. Fertilizing based on removal is done to prevent nutrient mining. However, nitrogen (a nutrient mobile in the soil) fertilizer need is based on yield and crop removal. Hence, the common Land Grant University N and sulfur recommendations are yield goal based.

Grid sampling

To be honest even the experts disagree on the hows, whys and ifs of grid sampling. I like data, therefore I naturally lean towards grid sampling if the field warrants it. For me, the biggest benefit of grid over zone sampling is that soils data from zone samples are biased to whatever parameter was set for the zone and therefore any resulting map for all nutrients must reflect the original zones. In a grid, each data point is independent therefore the maps of each nutrient can be independent, and (the science tells us) in most cases nutrients are independent of each other.

Ideally two pieces of information are available for determining whether a field is grid sampled or not. The first piece of information is a yield map from any previous crop. If yield is fairly uniform, I question the need for variable rate management, much less the expense of grid sampling. Regardless of the sampling method zone or grid, the discussion is moot if spatial variability does not exist across the field. However, many forage producers may not have access to this kind of data.

One of the most useful decision aid tools for grid sampling is the composite soil sample. The reason is simple statistics: A composite sample should be a representative average of the field. If the data is normally distributed, that means half of the field is above and half the field is below the sample average. So the optimum fields to grid are those in which an input falls at the point in which the benefit of applying is in question, because it suggests that approximately half the field needs the inputs while the other half likely does not. It is in this scenario that the return on investment can be greatest. As with pH, for example, fields with a very low value should have a flat broadcast application and should be sampled again at a later date. Fields with a composite pH well above 6.0 will unlikely have enough acres needing lime to warrant sending out an applicator.

Is grid sampling a lifelong activity? No. The initial activity of grid sampling will provide both an indicator of the variability level and overall needs of the field. From that point, decisions can be made and actions taken. Identify the greatest limiting factor in the field based on the samples, and focus on impacting change upon it. Zone sampling in subsequent years can be utilized to document change. When that issue is resolved, move to the next factor. It may require grid sampling again or using the original grid to develop new management zones. For instance, if the greatest issue first identified on the field is soil acidity then after the soil pH is neutralized the field should be grid sampled again. The reason is for this is that changing soil pH will influence many nutrients and the amount of change is not consistent but dependent upon many other factors.

In precision ag we tend to look at layers, yield, soil, etc. However, none of these tell the whole story independently. An area in a field may have moderate soil fertility and be under producing. Using the data collected the decision may be made to increase inputs; yet, the issue is a shallow restrictive layer limiting production. Therefore, the extra inputs will be of no benefit and could even further reduce production. It is at this point I like to bring out the importance of “getting dirty.” There is no technology that can take the place of “boots on the ground” agronomy.

For producers who have historically preformed intensive soil sampling there is still room for improvement. Soil testing and nutrient management is not an exact science; in fact, it was originally built for broad sweeping, statewide recommendations. As technology advances and inputs can be applied at sub-acre resolutions, all of the environment (weather, soil) by genotype inactions becomes more evident.

The next step in precision ag is to develop recommendations by upon site specific crop responses. This is where nutrient response strips can further improve nutrient use efficiencies and crop production. In Oklahoma, nitrogen-rich strips are applied across fields (grain and forage) to determine in-season nitrogen needs. Having a strip in the field with 50 to 100 extra units of N acts as a management tool which takes into account soil, environment and plant need. If the strip is visible the field or zone needs more N, if it is not visible then the crop is not deficient and at that point in the season does not need more N. Producers have taken this approach for N and adopted it for P and K with strips across the field with a zero and high rate of either nutrient. After a few seasons, responsive and non-responsive zones are developed and P and K applications are managed accordingly.

One misconception of precision ag is that the end result should be a field with uniform yield from one corner to the other. This is often not the case; in fact, in many cases the variability in production across the field can be increased. Theoretically, precision ag is applying inputs at the right rate in the right place. This means areas of the field which are yield limited due to underlying factors which cannot be managed have a reduction in inputs with no effect on yield. Other areas of the field have not been managed for maximum production therefore an increase inputs result in increasing yield widening the gap between the low and high yield levels.

Regardless of where a producer currently sets on the technology curve, there are potential ways to increase productivity and efficiency. There is nothing wrong with taking baby steps; it is often the simple things that lead to the greatest return.

Now may not be the time for Replacement

For phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizer management there are three primary schools of thought when it comes to rate recommendations. The three approaches are Build-up, Maintenance/Replacement, and Sufficiency. There is a time and place for each one of the methods however the current markets are making the decision for the 2016-16 winter wheat crop a very easy one. The OSU factsheet PSS-2266 goes in-depth on each of these methods. For the rest of the blog I will use P in the conversation but in many scenarios K should/could be treated the same.

Build-up is when soil test is below a significant amount of fertilizer, about 7.5 lbs P2O5 per 1 ppm increase, is added so that soil test values increase.  This method is only suggested when grain price is high and fertilizer is relatively cheap.  Given the market, this is a no go.  The two most commonly used methods of recommendation are Replacement and Sufficiency. In the replacement approach if the soil is at or below optimum P2O5 rate it based upon replacing what the crop will remove. The sufficiency approach uses response curves to determine the rate of P that will maximize yield. These two values are typically quite different.  A good way you boil the two down is that replacement feeds the soil and sufficiency feeds the plant.

Oklahoma State Universities Soil, Water, and Forage Analytical Lab (SWFAL) provides recommendations utilizing sufficiency only while many private labs and consultants use replacement or a blended approach.  Some of this is due to region.  Throughout the corn belt many lease agreement contain clauses that the soil test values should not decrease otherwise the renter pays for replacement after the lease is over. For the corn belt both corn and soybean can be expected to remove 80 to 100 pounds of P per year.  Conversely the Oklahoma state average wheat crop removes 17 lbs P a year.  In areas where wheat yields are below 40 bushel per acre (bpa) using the sufficiency approach for P recs can increase soil test P over time.

This conceptual soil test response curve is divided into categories that correspond with below opti-mum, optimum and above optimum soil test values. The critical level is the soil test level, below which a crop response to a nutrient application may be expected, and above which no crop response is expected. At very high soil test levels crop yield may decrease. *Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service FS719

This conceptual soil test response curve is divided into categories that correspond with below opti-mum, optimum and above optimum soil test values. The critical level is the soil test level, below which a crop response to a nutrient application may be expected, and above which no crop response is expected. At very high soil test levels crop yield may decrease.
*Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service FS719

Back to subject of this blog, consultants, agronomist, and producers need to take a good look at the way P recs are being made this year.  Profitability and staying in the black is the number 1, 2, and 3 topic being discussed right now.  The simple fact is there is no economic benefit to apply rate above crop need, regardless of yield level. The figures above demonstrate both the yield response to fertilizer based upon soil test. At the point of Critical level crop response / increase in yield is zero. What should also be understood is that in the replacement approach P fertilizer is still added even when soil test is in Optimum level.  This also referred to as maintenance, or maintaining the current level of fertility by replacing removal. If your program is a replacement program this is not a recommendation to drop it completely. Over a period of time of high removal soil test P levels can and will be drawn down. But one year or even two years of fertilizing 100 bpa wheat based on sufficiency will not drop soil test levels. On average soils contain between 400 and 6000 pounds of total phosphorus which in the soil in three over arching forms plant available, labile, and fixed. Plant available is well plant available and fixed is non plant available.  The labile form is intermediate form of P.  When P is labile it can be easily converted to plant available or fixed. When a plant takes up P the system will convert labile P into available P. When we apply P fertilizer the greatest majority of was is applied makes it to the labile and fixed forms in a relatively short period of time.  For more in-depth information on P in the soil you can visit the SOIL 4234 Soil Fertility course and watch recorded lectures Fall 2015 10 26-30 Link .

How to tell if your P recs have a replacement factor, not including calling your agronomist. First replacement recs are based on yield goal, so if you change your yield goal your rate will change.  The other and easier way is to compare your rates to the table below.  Most of the regional Land Grant Universities have very similar sufficiency recs for wheat.  Another aspect of the sufficiency approach is the percent sufficiency value itself.  The sufficiency can provide one more layer in the decision making process for those who are near the critical or 100% level.  Response and likelihood of response to P is not equal. At the lowest levels the likelihood of response is very high and the yield increase per unit of fertilizer is the greatest. As soil test values near critical (32.5 ppm or 65 STP) the likelihood of response and amount of yield increase due to fertilizer P decreases significantly.  At a STP of 10 the crop will only produce 70% of its environmental potential if P is not added while at a STP of 40 the crop will make 90% of its potential.  The combination of % sufficiency and yield goal can be used to determine economic value of added P.

*Oklahoma State University Soil Test Interpretations. PSS-2225 *Mehlich 3 and Bray P are similar *PPM (parts per million) is used by most labs *STP (soil test P) is a conversion used by some Universities. Equivalent to pounds per acre. * for a 0-6” in soil sample PPM * 2 = STP.

*From Oklahoma State University Soil Test Interpretations. Fact Sheet PSS-2225
*Based on Mehlich 3
*PPM (parts per million) is used by most labs
*STP (soil test P) is a conversion used by some Universities. Equivalent to pounds per acre.
* for a 0-6” in soil sample PPM * 2 = STP.

This data is available from OSU in multiple forms from the Factsheet PSS-2225, the SWFAL website, Pete Sheets quick cards, and the Field Guide App.

soapbox_ST

This year with margins tight soil testing is more important than ever before.  Knowing the likelihood of response and appropriate amount of fertilizer to apply will be critical maximizing the return on fertilizer invest while maximizing the quality and amount of grain we can produce.  Visit with your consultant or agronomist to discuss what the best approach is for your operation. Lets ride this market out, get the most out of every input and come out of this down cycle strong.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
Brian
b.arnall@okstate.edu

 

Sampling for pH and liming in continuous no-till fields

This article is written by Dr. David Mengel, Kansas State University Soil Fertility Specialist. 

One question that commonly comes up with continuous no-till operations is: “How deep should I sample soils for pH?” The next common question is: “How should the lime be applied if the soil is acidic and the field needs lime?”

Sampling depth in continuous no-till

First, sampling depth. Should two sets of samples be taken, at different depths?

Our standard recommendation for pH is to take one set of samples to a 6 inch depth. On continuous no-till fields where most or all of the nitrogen (N) is surface applied, we recommend taking a second sample to a 3-inch depth. We make the same recommendation for long-term pasture or grass hayfields, such as a bromegrass field that has been fertilized with urea annually for several years.

Nitrogen fertilizer is the primary driving force in lowering soil pH levels, so N application rates and methods must be considered when determining how deep to sample for pH. In no-till, the effects of N fertilizer on lowering pH are most pronounced in the area where the fertilizer is actually applied. In a tilled system, the applied N or acid produced through nitrification is mixed in through the action of tillage and distributed throughout the tilled area.

Where N sources such as urea or liquid UAN solutions are broadcast on the surface in no-till system, the pH effects of the acid formed by nitrification of the ammonium will be confined to the surface few inches of soil. Initially this may be just the top 1 to 2 inches but over time, and as N rates increase, the effect of acidity become more pronounced, and the pH drops at deeper depths. How deep and how quickly the acidity develops over time is primarily a function of N rate and soil CEC, or buffering capacity.

Where anhydrous ammonia is applied, or liquid UAN is knifed or coulter banded below the surface, an acid zone will develop deeper in the soil, usually 2-3 inches above the release point where the fertilizer is placed in the soil. So if the ammonia is injected 8 inches deep, there will be acid bands 5 to 8 inches below the soil surface. As with long-term surface applications, these bands will expand over time as more and more N fertilizer is placed in the same general area. The graphic below illustrates the effect of a high rate of ammonia placed in the same general area in the row middle on a high CEC soil for more than 20 years.

The actual depth of the acid zone in fields fertilized with ammonia gets tricky as application depth can vary depending on the tool used to apply the ammonia. Traditional shank applicators generally run 6 to 8 inches deep, so a sample for pH measurement could be taken at 3-6 inches or 5-8 inches deep, depending on how deep the shanks were run. The new low-disturbance applicators apply the ammonia 4-5 inches deep. A sweep plow or V-blade applies ammonia only 3-4 inches deep. So sampling depth for pH should really depend on where the acid-forming N fertilizer is put in the soil.

Mengel and West, Purdue Univ.

Mengel and West, Purdue Univ.

 

Liming application methods in continuous no-till

Now, where do you place the lime in continuous no-till? If you surface apply N, then surface apply the lime. That’s a simple but effective rule. But remember that surface-applied lime will likely only neutralize the acidity in the top 2-3 inches of soil. So if a producer hasn’t limed for 20 years of continuous no-till and has applied 100 to 150 pounds of N per year, there will probably be a 4-5 inch thick acid zone, and the bottom half of that zone may not be neutralized from surface-applied lime. So, if a producer is only able to neutralize the top 3 inches of a 5-inch deep surface zone of acid soil, would that suggest he needs to incorporate lime? Not really. Research has shown as long as the surface is in an appropriate range and the remainder of the acid soil is above pH 5, crops will do fine.

Liming benefits crop production in large part by reducing toxic aluminum, supplying calcium and magnesium, and enhancing the activity of some herbicides. Aluminum toxicity doesn’t occur until the soil pH is normally below 4.8. At that pH the Al in soil solution begins to increase dramatically as pH declines further. Aluminum is toxic to plant roots, and at worse the roots would not grow well in the remaining acid zone.

This implies that the acid zones from ammonia are probably not a major problem. We have monitored ammonia bands in the row middles of long-term no-till for many years and while the pH got very low, below 4.5, we never saw any adverse impacts on the crop that would justify liming and using tillage to incorporate the lime. In fact, some nutrients such as zinc, manganese, and iron can become more available at low pH, which can be an advantage at times.

Yield enhancement is not the only concern with low-pH soils, however. Herbicide effectiveness must also be considered. The most commonly used soil-applied herbicide impacted by pH is atrazine. As pH goes down, activity and hence performance goes down. So in acid soils weed control may be impacted. We do see that in corn and sorghum production.

Liming products for no-till

When choosing a liming product, is there any value to using dolomitic lime (which contains a large percentage of magnesium in addition to calcium) over a purely calcium-based lime product? On most of our soils in Kansas we are blessed with high magnesium content. So as long as we maintain a reasonable soil pH, there normally is enough magnesium present to supply the needs of a crop. Calcium content is normally significantly higher than magnesium, so calcium deficiency is very, very rare in Kansas. The soil pH would need to be below 4.5 before calcium deficiency would become an issue. Before calcium deficiency would occur, aluminum toxicity or manganese toxicity would be severely impacting crop growth. So producers really don’t have to worry about a deficiency of calcium or magnesium on most Kansas soils.

What about the use of pelletized lime as a pH management tool on no-till fields? The idea has been around for a while to use pel-lime in low doses to neutralize the acidity created from nitrogen and prevent acid zones from developing. There is no reason it won’t work, if you apply enough product each year. Pel-lime is a very high-quality product, normally having 1800 to 2000 pounds of effective calcium carbonate (ECC) per ton, and can be blended with fertilizers such as MAP or DAP or potash easily.

But it is costly. As an example, at a cost of $160 per ton and 1,800 lbs effective calcium carbonate (ECC) per ton, 100 pounds of ECC pel-lime costs $8.80. If it costs $25 per ton to buy, haul, and apply a 50% ECC limestone, that equates to $2.50 per 100 pounds ECC.

If you were applying 100 pounds of urea-based nitrogen, it would take approximately 180 pounds of ECC to neutralize the acidity produced by the N. This would require 200 pounds of 1,800 pound ECC pel-lime or 360 pounds of 50% ECC ag lime. The cost would be around $16 per acre with pel-lime or $4.50 per acre with ag lime. So technically, the pel-lime option is fine. But it would cost more than 3 times as much, at least in this example. You can use your own figures regarding costs and ECC of different lime products available to you to do a similar calculation. Deciding which product to use is a simple economic choice.

Summary

Applying N fertilizer to soil will cause the soil to become acidic over time. Placement of the applied N and the level of soil mixing done through tillage determine where the acid zones will develop.  Make sure your soil testing program is focused on the area in the soil becoming acidic, and apply the lime accordingly.

Dave Mengel
Kansas State University
Professor Soil Fertility Specialist
dmengel@ksu.edu