In today’s economy, consumers are always looking for ways to save money. One of the most practical ways to save money is to have your soil tested. Soil testing is a service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at its Agronomic Division in Raleigh.
The Agronomic Division conducts two types of soil tests: predictive and diagnostic. Predictive is the standard soil test that provides the lime and fertilizer recommendations necessary to optimize yields. A diagnostic soil test helps identify specific nutrient deficiencies or excesses that may be preventing optimal plant growth.
For farmers, soil testing is the first step in planning an economical and environmentally sound fertilization program. The efficient use of nutrients can help reduce fertilizer costs and environmental concerns without reducing yield or quality. This requires a well-planned fertilization program based on soil sampling, wise selection of nutrients based on needs and costs, and proper application of fertilizers. For homeowners, soil testing takes the guesswork out of maintaining soil in optimum condition for plant growth and development.
It’s ideal to collect samples three to six months before planting time. Taking good samples, filling out paperwork properly, and packaging samples for delivery in a well-organized manner are important. In the coastal plain region, it is best to test the soil every two to three years.
For the fourth consecutive year, a $4 fee will be charged for all soil samples processed by the department’s Agronomic Division during its busiest season: December through March. There will still be no fee from April through November. Fees for other specific tests including plant tissue analysis, solution analysis, and nematodes will remain the same. These fees are being implemented to encourage more growers to sample early and for improvements to the agronomic lab such as new equipment, additional peak-season personnel, and computer-programming enhancements. So it is very important to get your samples to Raleigh by Nov. 30 to avoid the fee.
Soil sample boxes and forms can be picked up at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center at 455 Caton Road in, Lumberton. Samples can be mailed to the lab in Raleigh or dropped off at the Extension Center, where they will be delivered to Raleigh. Entering soil sample data online when possible is also being encouraged. This saves time and reduces errors when transferring data from the information sheets. Extension agents can also assist you in interpreting the soil test results or developing a soil treatment plan. Remember, having your soil tested before planting gives you the opportunity to increase your yields on the farm or improve your landscape around the house.
For information, contact Nelson Brownlee 910-at 671-3276 or Nelson_Brownlee@ncsu.edu, or visit robeson.ces.ncsu.edu.
Nelson Brownlee is an extension area farm management agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center.