Soil testing offers farmers a proven means of evaluating soil nutrient levels and provides guidelines to help set fertilizer rates and application methods to achieve desired production levels.

Cooperative Extension agents have preached that sermon for about as long as the agency has been in existence. So why do so few Texas farmers take advantage of an affordable and proven system to increase efficacy?

“This could be an opportunity for substantial savings and reduced environmental impact,” says Dr. Mark McFarland, Texas A&M professor and AgriLife Extension soil fertility specialist.

McFarland, speaking at the Texas Plant Protection Association conference at College Station last December, said testing deeper than the typical 6 inches also offers opportunities to take advantage of “residual” nutrients, especially nitrogen.

“I see two compelling reasons to be interested in better soil fertility management,” he said. The first is to manage costs. “The last few years fertilizer prices have increased and fluctuated. Even with recent price drops, it’s still important to manage fertility.”

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Nutrient management also affects the environment. “Water quality is important,” McFarland said. “Some 55 percent of the nation’s streams are considered ‘impaired.’ Agriculture is recognized as one of the contributors.” He said 47 percent of Texas streams are considered impaired.

Closer attention to nutrient application and use can help reduce those numbers. “When we harvest a plant we remove nutrients with the vegetation or nutrients are left on the soil with the stubble.”