It starts with a Soil Sample

It starts with a Soil Sample from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

Our crops don’t care about commodity prices. Let that sink in. As far as a corn, bean, wheat, or alfalfa plant out in the field goes, it doesn’t care if commodity prices are at a record high or a record low. They only care about having their needs met. Our crops need a specific “cocktail” of nutrients to reach the yield potential that we set for them each year. And frankly, I believe that there is always room in the budget for a soil sample.

The reason I say that there is always room for a soil sample in the budget is because the idea for an intensive soil samples isn’t a new idea. We started doing intensive soil samples in the late 90’s in the days of LDP. Whatever the price of Corn or Beans is, we need to be thinking about our maximum economic return per acre, and that every acre has a different potential. As we set our budget, we need to set that budget for each acre, not for each field. If one area has a yield potential of 250, and another has a potential of 200, do you want to put the same amount of expenses into each of those acres? No, you want to match expenses to returns. And that is the basis of the intensive sample. Not just to get the most out of our soil, but to identify the variability and set realistic expectations.

Central Valley Ag can bring you many advantages with intensive soil samples. Our soil samples are done in-house by local CVA employees that know your land. Our trusted labs send the results back to us for recommendations, not anybody else. Your property and information are only touched by your local cooperative employees. In our ACS program, we have a more complete soil analysis than many others, which includes N-P & K of Course, but also OM, pH, Buffer pH, and a few other nutrients and analysis. For the price, you will not find a better, more informative soil sampling package.

I think it is important for me to add some clarity, however, to why I am so confident that a soil sampling program is an important part of your budget. As we look at the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), there is a nationwide trend for declining Phosphorus and Potassium levels. In the CVA trade area, only 10% of our samples are in the optimum range for Phosphorus. 41% are low, and 27% are critically low. When it comes to pH, around 20% of our soils test in a yield limiting range of pH below 6.0.

Some other statistics about the ACS Soil sampling program include:

  1. Average yield advantage for intensive sampled & VR Fertilized Soybeans in 5.9 bu/acre.
  2. Average yield advantage for intensive sampled & VR Fertilized Corn is 18 bu/acre.
  3. The average change in fertilizer investment when intensive sampling is approx. $13/acre/year including application.

Again, I am just a simple Agronomist, but when I look at the average fertilizer investment that goes into the ACS program and the cost of sampling, I am looking at a number South of $18.00/acre on average. And remember the goal with the ACS program is not just maximum yield, it is maximum economic return per acre. Within this are a number of acres that had applications greatly reduced due to high soil test, and acres that had a build philosophy applied to them. In years where we have to be more conservative on the budget, if we have done our work with the build, we can go into a maintenance program based on Yield Goals and Crop Removal rates.

At the end of the day, as we look at current commodity prices and current fertilizer prices, I feel good about intensive sampling being an opportunity to get a 3:1 ROI. With the above average bean yields we have seen in many areas this year, we removed more from the soil than we added. You and your FSA need to stay the course and continue to invest in the most valuable asset you have in your operation, your land.