Every fall, the floodgates open and the soil tests come rolling in. I love soil tests. Probably because I actually use them for what they are intended for. Information. Not sales.
A long time ago when I decided to form a business around testing soil and consulting based on those soil tests, a ton of people said that I was crazy. Charge for something that the fertilizer industry usually gives away for free? It made no sense.
When I exposed bad testing or perhaps better said, cheaper testing that didn't have the right answers, I got heat as well. How dare I tear down what had always been done. In some cases since the 1940's.
My friends who run good soils labs do it with vim and vigor. They take it seriously and the results show. What others do with the data isn't really their concern. They just want the machines calibrated, the solutions fresh and the reports formatted correctly. And lets face it, when you are running hundreds of samples a day, you can't worry too much about where they were pulled or how they were pulled.
This won't be an admonition to simply never change soils labs. I think we all understand the need for that consistency. And certainly this post won't go into the stuff about which extraction solution is correct for a certain situation or if spectrographs really warrant double the cost of color-metric evaluations. Because that's step 9-11 of a good testing program and I want to talk about steps One, Two ad Three.
Sample depth. Believe it or not, this is where 80% of the mistakes that I see happens. Pulling samples means sticking that probe in the ground and getting the sample into a collection bag. Sounds simple. Any Intern Monkey can do it. But guess what? It's actually the area that you can really mess up the most. How do I know this? Because several tens of thousands of samples have shown me that if this is done wrong, it shows up. So, if it means that you mark the soil probe or whatever, GET CONSISTENT sample depth. I can go out and pull everything at 4 inches and pull one sample at 6 inches and you would swear the oddball isn't from the same facility. Make a decision. Be strongly aware of this.
Sample Locations. Repeating the same set of samples every year isn't wrong. It's also not right. You should, however be repeating some areas and and adding in new ones. Example: 9 greens get samples pulled twice per year for 18 total samples. Of those 9, repeat 3 of the samples from the previous set. Rinse and repeat. Now you have comparative data and new data. Pretty simple. May need a chart or a spreadsheet to help you remember.
Result Tabulation. You are going to hear a lot about what desired values should or should not be. I may get to how I feel about all of this in a future rant, but for sure, you should have another chart for tabbing your results. Or a spreadsheet, yes. And simply, take every number on the page and list it. And if you are doing your rotations as I mention, then over time, you should have repeating data. Meaning number 8 green may have 5-6 samples over the course of 2-3 years and you can make some comparisons. What went up? What went down? Simple food for discussion and questions and ideas.
Step Three point Two:
Forget the bar charts on your test. Most of them don't know your need or your situation and what is high for one situation is low for another. It's more difficult than that. But if you know what's falling and what is rising, you can make some decisions.
So here's an example:
The super at Coconut Creek Golf and Banana Eating Club pulls 4 inch samples and sends them to the same lab she has always used. She has been rotating well and when the results come back she enters the data on a simple chart and calculates the percentages that things have changed. Over the last 4 years she has sampled the 8th green 5 times. She notices that over the course of this time period Sodium goes up 5% between fall and spring, but falls over the course of the winter. However this last set shows a 12% gain in Sodium. Rainfall has been scarce. And so, this means something is out of norm. Time to leach some salts and perhaps make some applications to help this happen. Good data. Good answers.
The super at Cat Crap Country Club takes a break from replacing sand in bunkers and is having big issues with Take All Patch. When soil tests come back, he can quickly see that his pH has trended towards alkalinity and that his Manganese is trending lower. CCCC will be a better place if choices can be made to get some acidity going and rock the Mang. Back to dealing with the litter and CCCC is selected for the city championship. All the cool cats will be there.
Simple. Really. A lot of people (including the younger, less experienced agronomist in me) want to make it much harder to understand. But it's not. Not really. And there are TONS of info out there to help you through your own particular puzzle.
The spheres are in commotion
The elements in harmony
She blinded me with science
She blinded me with science
And hit me with technology
Thomas Dolby - She Blinded Me With Science
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