Along The Fencerow

All healthy, living organisms have several things in common. They require soil, water, air and nutrients. All plants and animals depend on these four areas for survival and are very important in production agriculture, urban landscapes and gardens.

We know one thing for sure about soils: They are not created equal.

A common question during my teaching and extension career was how to improve the soil.

First, I would recommend a soil test. Know and understand what you are starting with from the very beginning. Test for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, pH and organic matter.

Second, make economical decisions based on these soil tests and amend the soil accordingly. This may lead to amending the “structure” of the soil. The most common form of amending the structure is by adding and incorporating compost or manure.

In extreme cases of sandy soils or clayey soils, manure may have the greatest benefits. As with soil testing, analyzing the manure is also important. You should know what you are applying and at what rate you should apply it.

Let’s say, for example, that we sent in solid beef manure for analysis (liquid would be different). Our method of application is broadcast, and we are incorporating it within one day. We find out that total nitrogen is 10 pounds per ton, total phosphorus is eight pounds per ton, total potassium is 12 pounds per ton in the manure.

When we go through the math, we will end up with four pounds per ton actual nitrogen, four pounds per ton actual phosphorous, and 10.2 pounds per ton actual potassium.

Our soil test says that we are low in phosphorous. Our limiting factor, following best management practices, would be the phosphorous.

Therefore, if we apply and incorporate 12 tons per acre of the beef manure, we should end up with the following: 48 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen, 48 pounds per acre of phosphorus, and 122 pounds per acre of potassium.

As phosphorus builds up over time to high levels, producers, homeowners, and gardeners alike should make the necessary adjustments to prevent over-applying phosphorous.

For more information on this topic, contact your county extension agen.

Bradley Goering can be reached at 620-327-4499 or by e-mail:

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