Why Farmers in Western Canada Use or Don’t Use Soil Sampling as Part of Their Nutrient Management Planning


29 Apr 2016

2015 Annual Interpretive Summary

The sampling and analysis of soils from fields is one of the most useful tools available to monitor nutrient availability on farms. However, not all farmers make use of this technology. The second year Agronomy Course at the Olds College in Olds, Alberta have a hands-on course assignment where every student in the course takes a soil sample from an actual farm field, gathers crop history information from the farm manager, has the soil sample analyzed, and by targeting nutrients needs for an achievable crop yield, develops a fertilizer rate recommendation, and also how the fertilizer will be applied considering fertilizer forms, timing and placement.

In mid October 2015, each of 36 course students collected a soil sample from a farm field they had arranged permission to sample. Sometimes this was from their own home farm, but not always. It could be taken from a neighbor's farm, or if the student is from a city or town it could be from a relative's farm or a farm arranged by the course instructor. They were instructed to take 15 to 20 random cores in two depths, 0 to 6 in. and 6 to 24 in. that were combined and a subsample of each depth submitted to a soil test laboratory for analysis. An additional assignment this past year was to ask the farm manger 14 survey questions. All students completed the assignment, and highlights of the survey indicate: 1) 78% of farms had soil sampling done some time in the past, while 22% had never used soil sampling; 2) 29% of farms use soil sampling every year, 23% every two to three years, 3% every five years, and 45% only occasionally; 3) 87% of participants found the information useful and of that percentage, 24% indicated it would help to make a fertilizer recommendation, 36% to monitor nutrient availability, 12% to make the soil more productive, 9% to adjust fertilizer rates for economic reasons, and 18% for other reasons; 4) Of those farms not presently using soil sampling, 11% had never used and did not know the benefits, 11% thought it too costly, 16% thought it too time consuming, 21% had soil tested but did not use the information, and 42% could not explain why they did not use the technology; 5) 69% indicated that they were comfortable interpreting soil test results on their own; 6) 73% indicated they would consider using more soil sampling in the future; 7) Going forward, 28% indicated they would use the basic N, P, K, S sampling, 50% would use an advanced macro- and micro-nutrient testing protocol, and 22% would use a zone management (precision agriculture) sampling protocol.