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What is Soil Analysis?


The idea behind balanced plant nutrition is to apply the nutrients that cannot be adequately supplied by the soil. We therefore need to use soil analysis to determine how much of each nutrient the soil will provide to our crop.

Soils often contain high amounts of nutrients, but the majority are in solid forms. Plants take up nutrients in solution, therefore most of the solid nutrients may be unavailable. For example, a soil may contain 5,000 lbs of potassium per acre, but only 50 lbs may be available to a crop.

The trick to soil analysis is to determine both the amount of each nutrient that is immediately available and the amount that can become available during the life of the crop. Various methods have been developed and the key to success is that the methods must be calibrated.

Experiments must be done to show that the results of the analysis consistently indicate the amount of nutrient that a crop will actually get from the soil. Once the method and its interpretation are shown to be reliable, they can then be used to predict whether or not a crop will need additional nutrients and how much needs to be added.

The numbers on a soil report do not indicate the exact amount of nutrients available to a crop, but when interpreted correctly, they give a description of the soil fertility.

The potassium analytical result may be 0.25 meq/100 cm3, but this number does not mean anything by itself. What really matters is that for our method, this value indicates that the potassium level is deficient.

Another laboratory may use a different method and get a different potassium value on the same sample. The results from the two laboratories cannot be directly compared. However, if they are both properly calibrated, the two methods should give the same fertility description; they should both indicate that the soil is deficient in potassium.

The analytical result is used to suggest how much nutrient should be applied. The exact amount needed will depend on the crop to be grown and must be modified to suit the conditions under which it is grown.