Cornell Cooperative Extension Provides Tips on how to take a Successful Soil Sample
Article Contributed by
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Soil testing is the building block of any nutrient management program. Testing allows you to assess your pH, organic matter, and the nutrient levels in your soil. Your results help you to make cost effective and environmentally sound nutrient applications. Fall is a common time to sample, so let’s discuss how to get soil from the field and into a lab for analysis.
- Pick the lab: Although there are different labs to send samples to, Dairy One is the most common in New York. Results provide nutrient and lime recommendations tailored to you.
- Use the right tools: Different tools can be used to take soil samples like probes, augers, a spade, or shovel.
- Sample at the right depth: Different tillage practices mean different soil sampling depths. When utilizing full tillage, take a sample from the top 8 inches of the soil. Pastures and hayfields need to have the top 6 inches sampled for the best results. When tillage is not used, two samples are needed: one of the top 6 inches, and one of the top inch.
- Sample in a pattern: One soil sample should not represent more than 15 acres. Take soil cores in a zig-zag pattern throughout the field to get a representative sample. Fields with different management should be sampled separately.
- Avoid abnormal areas: Abnormal areas like burn piles, eroded slopes, and piled waste should not be sampled. Sampling these areas will affect the results.
- Place soil into bags: Once you have your soil cores, break them down, mix, and place 2-3 cups into a bag. Sandwich bags, paper bags, or pre-ordered sample bags can be used. If the soil is saturated, lay it out to dry at room temperature before bagging and shipping.
- Complete the paperwork: There are different forms for various production systems. Determine which best fits your needs on the Dairy One website. Fun fact: Form A is used for field crops. The paperwork includes the name of the sampled field, crop information, and the soil name. You can determine your soil type from the USDA-NRCS Web Soil Survey site.
- Ship your samples: A basic soil test costs $18/sample plus shipping costs. Samples can be shipped by any carrier and sent to 730 Warren Road, Ithaca NY 14850. You can also request discounted pre-paid mailing labels from the lab directly.
Some important things to remember while sampling:
- You should take samples every 3 years. Sampling this often will allow you to re-evaluate nutrient management.
- The results you get are only as good as the samples you send in. Samples should be representative and taken at the right depth.
- Consistency is key. Take samples the same time of year and always send them to the same lab.
For more information about soil testing or report interpretation, reach out to Katelyn Miller at 716-640-2047 or contact one of your county’s wonderful Extension agents for assistance!