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Serving: IN
truck carrying lime in field Tom J. Bechman
LIME IN DEMAND: Agronomist Scott Thompson finds that many fields on small farms that haven’t been soil-sampled regularly need lime.

Special project uncovers soil fertility needs on small farms

A soil and water conservation district project focuses on farms and fields that haven’t used soil testing regularly.

Corn, soybeans and alfalfa don’t care if you grow thousands of acres, hundreds of acres or just a couple of fields. If the pH isn’t adjusted properly or soil nutrients are deficient, those crops aren’t going to produce well on any acres.

The soil and water conservation district in Allen County, Ind., is making a special effort to reach out to farmers with smaller acreages to help them improve soil fertility management. Greg Lake with the Allen County SWCD says if they can persuade farmers with smaller acreages to do a better job with soil fertility, it’s likely they can help reduce water quality issues in those areas.

The SWCD received a grant for a two-year program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Scott Thompson, a local agronomist, is coordinating the program on contract for the district.

“Currently we have about 70 clients, and I’ve sampled 3,600 acres so far,” he reports. A large percentage of his clients are Amish farmers.

“Many of these fields I’m sampling haven’t been sampled in a long time,” Thompson notes. “These farmers typically aren’t working with soil consultants who pull samples, and many aren’t large enough that retail outlets will test their soils for them.”

Make progress

What Thompson is finding is that there are pH management issues on many of the farms. Often the pH is low, and lime is needed. Many times, fields or parts of fields may be deficient in phosphorus and/or potassium.

“If they have livestock, they may traditionally spread near the barn and those fields are too high in nutrients, while fields a long way from the barn are low to very low,” he explains.

Thompson ran across a hayfield that tested only a couple of parts per million for phosphorus. That’s so low, it barely registers on the scale.

“I prepare recommendations and sit down and discuss them with the farmer,” he says. His recommendations are based on the Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations.

“These farmers are receptive, and are willing to make changes,” he says. “Some are concerned what happens when this program ends, and they don’t have access to testing anymore. But we’re making progress in understanding that managing soil fertility is important.”

Farmers with limited acreage often face problems getting fertilizer custom-applied on time, he notes. Getting lime applied can also be a difficult challenge if you only have a few acres.

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