The average person hardly ever stops to think about soil. In truth, the earth beneath us is wildly diverse. Even across the US alone, the makeup of soil varies greatly—so much so that it takes on noticeable different textures and colors. What’s more, different helpful and harmful microorganisms inhabit all manner of soil. When it comes to farming, the contents of soil are essential to growing crops efficiently. In other words, the importance of soil testing is the difference between feeding a nation or falling behind on demand.
What Is Soil Testing?
As the name suggests, soil testing is the process of collecting earth from a field and analyzing its make-up. Typically, samples are taken between 30 inches to 4 feet below the surface to gather an accurate selection of material crop roots will ideally occupy. The difference in depth is selected depending on the growing depth of the specific crop being measured for.
The analysis will reveal an array of interesting details such as trace elements left by previous crops and other organic matter. Additionally, the test will indicate the levels of key nutrients and chemicals such as pH, nitrogen, and potassium. Finally, certain soil tests will even reveal the microbial life which can profoundly impact the health of plants by supplying nutrients and fending off disease-causing bacteria and fungi.
How Soil Testing Helps Farmers
While it may seem like a lot of technical nonsense, each factor reveal tells farmers about the overall health of their fields. As crops are grown, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients. By routinely checking the quality of their soil, farmers can predict how well crops will do. The importance of soil testing ultimately comes down to properly maintaining fields that optimally support the crops we depend upon.
Once the condition of a field is known, farmers can actively take steps to improve soil quality. Often this involves directly inoculating crops and fields with the right microorganism that produce needed nutrients. Additionally, farmers generally refresh the soil using formulated fertilizers or with compost produced on their farms. Each plant requires different balances of nutrients as well, so many farms test yearly as part of planning and preparing for each new season of crops.