It’s almost as predictable as the lunch menu at an Extension production meeting. Soil fertility specialists will encourage producers to soil test before they determine type and rate for crop nutrients. And attendees can expect barbecue and baked beans. Count on it.

Mark McFarland’s message, however, goes a bit, well, deeper. He’s adamant that checking nutrient level is an absolute in devising an efficient fertilization plan, but he also recommends digging down as far as 48 inches to see if leftover nutrients might be available to offer significant savings on a fertilizer bill.

“We buy fertilizer per pound of nutrients,” McFarland told participants in the recent Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene. “And with prices ranging from 40 cents a pound to 60 cents a pound, it can be an expensive investment. We want to do it right because we know what it takes to grow a crop.”

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With wheat, end use is a critical factor. Nutrient demands for grazing, grain or dual purpose are different. “First, we need to know the end use and then determine how much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, secondary nutrients and micro-nutrients we need to achieve yield goals. If we leave one nutrient out, the other things we do will not matter. If we short one nutrient, that’s the one that will determine yield potential. So we need to get as close as we can.

“Soil test,” he said, to no one’s surprise. “I’ve been preaching that for 20 years.”

He also cautioned farmers to consider field history when planning nutrient programs. “See if any nutrient remains in the soil. Residual nutrients may be more valuable now than when they were applied. Price may have gone up.”