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Extension > Extension in your Community > Rice > County Agriculture Educator > Articles > Give guesswork the boot – get your soil tested

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Give guesswork the boot – get your soil tested

Understanding your soil is important for successful crop production and gardening. Soil analysis can help farmers and gardeners determine the current state of their soil as well as provide insight on how to amend it for optimal performance.
You can send your soil to the University of Minnesota’s newly renovated Soil Testing and Research Analytical Lab and remove the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations. You can get a clear picture of what your soil needs, which ultimately helps you save money and may also reduce pollution from excess fertilizer.

To assist with Minnesota’s soil testing needs, the University of Minnesota's Soil Testing and Research Analytical Lab recently had a $3 million renovation. The lab now has updated infrastructure, cutting-edge equipment, and more work space to fulfill the soil testing needs of the state. The amount of soil samples that the lab was processing tripled over the past six years, making it necessary to increase the lab’s efficiency. The lab now has a better work flow, new equipment, and employs six full-time scientists, two part-time scientists, and six to ten students.

The laboratory’s new turnover time is seven to ten business days. This is the time required to receive, prepare, test, and send back results for a soil sample. The lab offers over 100 different tests, which are now more precise. Most of the tests have increased sensitivities, resulting in better detection due to the new equipment and increased automation. One result of this increased accuracy is that Minnesota farmers and gardeners have better information to use when making decisions on their farms and in their gardens.

Results of a standard soil test include data on soil fertility, including insights on phosphorus (P), potassium (K), pH, and percent organic matter in your soil. In addition, fertilizer and lime recommendations are provided based on the test results. The most common fertilizer used for a fertility program is nitrogen. Nitrogen (N) is not commonly included with the test because of its mobile and ever changing chemical forms in the soil, however, recommendations are given based on plant or crops being grown, which you, as the farmer or gardener indicate on the form.

Additional tests are available upon request, and are listed on the lab’s website: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/. The new equipment is more sensitive to trace amounts of elements, making testing for certain micronutrients more insightful. The submission form and the instructions for submitting soil samples are available at your local Extension office, or on the lab’s website.
For more information, visit http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/, email soiltest@umn.edu, or call the Soil Testing and Research Analytical Lab at 612.625.3101.

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