Wisconsin farmers who have a nutrient management plan are required to have their soil tested once every four years. But for those who don't have a nutrient management plan, soil testing farm fields is strictly optional.
While some farmers may want to skip soil testing with $3 corn to save money, Dennis Klumpers, agronomist for United Cooperative in Pickett, says soil testing saves money. Every year Klumpers soil tests 9,000 to 10,000 acres of cropland in east central Wisconsin.
"I imagine a lot more farmers will be soil testing with $3 corn. Without a soil test, farmers are just guessing at how much fertilizer to apply," Klumpers explains. "Maybe they could do that when crop prices were high, but not anymore. Soil testing is a great way to save money and put the crop inputs where they'll do the most good."
The USDA is predicting that the 2014 corn crop will be the largest in history thanks to more acres planted, excellent weather, better corn hybrids, higher plant populations, proper nutrients and management of weeds, pests and diseases.
"University recommendations were increased in 2013 due to higher yields," Klumpers says. "Crops are pulling out more nutrients than what they were saying."
Farmers who have their soil tested once every four years receive a soil report.
"The report tells them how much organic matter, potash, phosphorus is in their soil," Klumpers explains. "Based on what was grown, the soil report also tells them their nutrient recommendations for each crop and how much phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients they need to apply for the crop they intend to grow."
Klumpers says because there is no test in the fall for nitrogen that gives an accurate reading, university recommendations are followed for how much nitrogen to apply based off what type of soil it is and what kind of crop is going to be planted.
"Corn and wheat are the two main crops that need nitrogen," Klumpers says.
The report also tells producers what the pH of their soil is and how much lime to add.
"Farms on clay soil rarely need lime because clay soils have a natural high soil pH."
In addition to having their soil tested, Klumpers says dairy and livestock farmers can lower their fertilizer costs by taking the proper nutrient credits from the manure they apply to their fields and their crop rotation.
"Alfalfa, soybeans and vegetable legumes give the next crop nitrogen," he says. "With $3 corn, it's more important than ever to take the nitrogen and manure credits and apply only the fertilizer that is needed and apply it where it will do the most good."