Reading soil test results

By Dave Nanda, Seed Consultants, Inc.

Labs may differ in the data presentation and analysis but your understanding of the basic items would help you in ordering fertilizers for your fields. A soil test is a way of estimating the nutrients that may be available to the crop. Keep the following points in mind as indicated in a report by Jim Johnson of OSU:

• The top section of the report identifies the soil sample; the middle tells you about the results; and the bottom indicates the recommendations.

• Cation Exchange Capacity or (CEC) indicates the particle size of the soil. Sand has low CEC and clay and organic matter have high CEC. Soil CEC ranges from 5 to 40.

• Organic matter is the percent of organic content of the soil. Ideally, you would like to have 5% organic matter (OM) but a number between 1% to 3% is more common.

• The pH value is a measure of soil acidity. A pH of 6.6 or lower indicates acidic soil, 6.7 to 7.3 means neutral and more than 7.3 is considered basic.

• Nitrogen test tells us about the amount of nitrate that is water-soluble and can move to the root zone. Credit from previous soybeans or other legume is not included in the report.

• The test does not account for recently applied anhydrous ammonia or nitrogen from manure.

• Calcium is associated with soil pH. Soils which are low in calcium generally need lime.

• Magnesium is similar in availability to potassium.

• Phosphorus and Potassium that may be available to the plants are indicated. The soil may contain much more than the amounts shown but plants cannot extract and use them.

• Sodium value higher than 920 indicates it is excessive.

• Soluble salts with more than 2,600 parts per million indicate saline soils.

• Boron, iron, manganese, sulfur and zinc may be indicated in reports.

• Recommendations at the bottom show the amount of actual nutrients to apply in pounds per acre.

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