“History is largely a record of human struggle to wrest the land from nature, because man relies for sustenance on the products of the soil. So direct is the relationship between soil erosion, the productivity of the land, and the prosperity of people, that the history of mankind, to a considerable degree at least, may be interpreted in terms of the soil and what has happened to it as the result of human use.‘ - Hugh H. Bennett and W.C. Lowdermilk, circa 1930’s NRCS.USDA.GOV

Many societies have struggled in understanding what our soil properties, capabilities and what nutrients they have in the native state. In 1933, Hugh H. Bennett was appointed by President Roosevelt as director of the Soil Erosion Service. Bennett started directing our country to better understand our soils to overcome impacts from nature and man.

It is said that not all soils are created equal and soils can have many beneficial or non-beneficial properties. Some soils may favor grass growth as some are best suited for growing crops. Testing the soil and growing crops is becoming more and more common as the years pass. Testing the soil and identifying soil types by using maps will help landowners make better use and fertilizer application decisions. Having your soil tested to evaluate its chemical properties is beneficial for landowners to increase the land’s productivity. This article will provide landowners a better understanding on how to sample soils and where to take them for testing.

Jim Williams, Missaukee and Wexford County’s District Conservationist for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, was asked during an interview why he thought soil sampling was important. “It is important to understand the soils and nutrient needs in result increasing productivity and protecting our natural resources from excess nutrient applications. Knowledge of soil sampling not only may produce better yields; it also may protect the environment from leaching excess nutrients.‘ Good to know! The local offices also have a new In-Field Soil Health Assessment that may be another piece to the puzzle.

In order to properly sample your soil, you will need tools, proper sampling procedures, adequate frequency and knowledge of proper sample locations.

Soil Sampling Tools

Many tools can be used to collect a soil sample. A spade shovel or tube sampler (shown in picture) are the most common sampling devices used. If landowners would like to try using a tube for soil sampling Missaukee Conservation District has one available. A pail is also a useful tool and should be plastic or non-metallic in nature. But before heading to the field, a map of the soils in the field would be beneficial. A landowner can look to Missaukee Conservation District or their local Conservation District for technical assistance or online at http://websoilsurvey. nrcs.usda.gov for information.


Sample Size and Preparation

In preparing the sample, many batches of dug soil can be combined into a sample bag. The combined soils are also known as a composite. Composites are typically made from multiple sample locations within a field. Maximum field size should be around 20 acres. Based on your soil map or knowledge of the field, if the field is broken up into different soil types, different samples may need to be taken. Keeping your core samples out of fence rows, travel lanes or other previously non-cropped areas will provide you more accurate results for nutrient application needs. Depth of the composite sample is also dependent on what crop you are growing. For example, gardens can be sampled up to 6 inches in depth where lawns would be sampled 3 to 4 inches deep depending on root depth.


When and how often to sample

Any given field should be sampled once every three years although some crops may benefit from a sample to be taken once a year. Generally speaking, it is best that a sample be taken annually. A good time of the year to sample your soil would be after harvest or before applying any nutrients or amendments.

Local co-ops, crop consultants, agronomists and MSU Extensions will be able to provide services in the sampling process. If you are a farmer or landowner actively sampling your soils, quality assurance programs are available to demonstrate good environmental stewardship practices like the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). If you would like to contact your local technician, please contact Jodi DeHate (Missaukee and Wexford Counties) (231) 839-7193; Alex Svoboda (Osceola and Lake Counties) (231) 465-8005.


Cost share available

The Missaukee Conservation District has cost share available for soil samples in two categories. One, for private landowners who can receive 50% of their cost share expenses up to $100 and up to $500 through the MAEAP cost share program which is intended for those participants working toward MAEAP goals on their farm (not limited to soil samples).

Jeff is the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative (CTAI) Technician for Missaukee Conservation District and based in Wexford County. You can contact him at 231.775.7681 ext. 3 or jeff.fewless@mi.nacdnet.n

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