Using soil test results for more than just nutrient recommendations
By Amber Radatz, with assistance from John Peters and Matt Ruark, of The Department of Soil Science, UW Madison and Dennis Frame of UW Discovery Farms
June 14, 2011
Results from soil tests continue to be one of the most important indicators of current soil fertility and a great source of information when determining nutrient recommendations for an upcoming crop. Recently, soil test results are being used as a way for a renter to show the landlord positive change or maintenance in soil fertility levels throughout the life of a land lease. It’s important to be very careful when using soil tests for these situations. An acre of soil to a 6-inch depth weighs about 1,000 tons, yet less than 1 ounce of soil is used for each test in the laboratory. Therefore, it is very important that the soil sample is representative of the entire field. Variability can result from a number of factors including: from the number of cores taken, the depth cores are taken from, time of year, and field moisture conditions.
Even though soil tests remain one of the most useful and basic crop and soil management tools we have, it is important to understand the limitations of the results for both accuracy and potential uses. Soil tests effectively distinguish soils with low and high probabilities of crop response for most nutrients (Bruulsema, 2004). The actual number presented to you on your soil test results sheet should be used to gauge that probability of crop response, and not necessarily as a finite value where one number is tremendously better or worse than another.
Here are some links to helpful resources with further information on the variability that might be present in your soil test results.