Posted on 21 September 2010.
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wendell-newsletterI started farming my own crops when I was in the eleventh grade of high school. In the time between then and 1986 I had many soil tests taken. I believed everything on that sheet. In 1986 I joined with Dr. Dan Skow and we got International Ag Labs going. The first indication I had that my belief system may not have been right was when we started visiting laboratories and found that there were many different opinions. The very first surprise I recall was when we visited a land grant college lab and they showed us the different procedures.

When they got to organic matter, we were told they ranked it in three categories. These were high, medium and low. We asked how they tested them and were told “when we hold it in our hand and it is dark colored, it is high. If it is brownish or grey it is medium, and if it is yellow or very light colored, it is low.” At that time I didn’t know much about the testing procedures of soil, but I knew this wasn’t very scientific. I am now up to 2010 and the controversy still continues. We will look at some the different procedures and I will share some of the opinions I have formed over the last twenty four years...

So begins the article Accuracy of a Soil Test. Read the complete article here: "Accuracy of a Soil Test"

What are you thoughts about the subject of soil testing? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Jon Frank

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  • Guest - Greg Tate

    Excellent coverage Wendell. Makes a lot of practical sense to me.

  • Guest - Gary Foster

    Jon: I thot your reply would be via e-mail as I’ve been anxiously waiting a reply. What’s the production on the fields where the 4 samples were provided? So what’s your intrepretation on why Wendell’s calcium levels are where they are? You’ve turned my belief system upside down with your explanation, so I’ve got to sleep on this. Is there a level where one can have too much calcium?

  • Wendell,
    While working for Integrated Biological Systems in Nampa ID, I have done a lot of soil testing for farmers in Idaho, using the Olsen phosphate test, testing high Calcium soils (7.6 –8.2 pH ranges). Two years ago we pulled some tests for a grower, using commercial fertilizer yearly and high rates of manure every three years, yet his Phosphate levels were still very low. We thought how can this be? After some research, we learned that the Olsen method primarily tests the Calcium phosphates, not the organic phosphates. With our recommendations, the farmer has stopped applying commercial phosphate fertilizer and his yields are great. The truth is that many soil tests are used to sell fertilizer, and not always to help the farmers. Thanks for posting this information about soil testing for farmers. I have great respect for International Ag labs.
    Mark Tally
    Caldwell, ID

  • Guest - Marcus Ferrell

    I’m a firm believer in testing. If you don’t know what’s missing
    how can you make it available to the plants? BUT, I am also a firm
    believer in testing the human body to determine what IT is lacking
    in as well. Then put THOSE missing elements in the soil for the
    plants to process and make available to the body. It’s a more holistic approach I think.

    We are what we eat, but I feel it does little good ot eat something that’s not providing everything the body needs in balanced proportions.

    This spring I will be putting this theory to the test with a small garden (1/4 acre) using seas salt as a fertilizer to
    replenish the soil, backed up with soil testing before and after
    application, plus having my own self tested for deficiencies.

    I am making arrangements with a local university to have my produce tested for nutrient and trace element content, and as a control, I will be sending produce from local markets along with mine to be tested as well.

    Sea salt contains 90+ minerals and trace elements, all which have runoff from the land since forever, and I want to see exactly how many my plants will take advantage of and pass along to ME in thier fruits.

    My belief is this : If you heal the soil, the soil will heal the plants on it, and the plants will pass that healing along to the person who eats them.

  • Guest - Tom Gibson

    The test results don’t show what test was ordered so I am not sure what product/service you are showing. Can you show examples of S-1, S-4, and S-5 or label your results so we can see what information you are giving on those tests?

  • Guest - Clay all over farms

    I will share our families experience, We farm on heavy clay soil, bearbrook clay they call it, They once called it lake champlain. The soil had a naturally high K value and to make things even harder to plow was the high mg and low calcium. This was not a very good situation as we now know for crop growth. at the time my father was believing a locale college and all they ever said was to and more k and so we did and things got worse and it was at this time that our father got in to researching things a little more instead of taking the easy way out and calling the college for more multinational corporation advice. he was able to attend a field day with a neighbour of ours, it was the casi books that got him interested and from there on we started on ridges which we are still on today but we break them down every two years to help aerate the soil. Going to the ridges was the first step then we started banding the herbicides planter or cultivator. liquid systems were installed on every planter cultivator to make better use of our fertilizer dollars. after a few years pure ridge tilling and not breaking the ride we got a hard lesson on the subject fertilizer quality from then on we were using orthophosphate rather than polyphosphates since we are in a cold climate orthophosphate does not need to be converted to be available and who really wants those heavy metals from the automobile industry anyways way to expensive for what would otherwise be a hazardous waste. It was at this point that things started to turn around for use the crops were doing much better the worms were starting to increase in numbers but we still had one thing we did not like and that was the rate of drainage the soil still did not drain like we would like it would take to long for the soil to dry to plant making it realy hard for use to plant and when we could it would dry up and make cement causing seed to soil contact to be very low. Ao we had to add some stone dust from a quarry about 2 km from us to increase the calcium content this improved the situation but still not to the point that we liked and our ph was getting up too high so we had to use Gypsum to get things moving and did things ever start to change the drainage was working a lot better, as if it removed a lower hardpan that we had failed to remove with our tillage practices. at this point we became in contact with the reams soil testing kit which at that time we did not know it was a special testing procedure my dad had bought the kit from a local consultant that was retiring. after about a year we realized what we had in our hand the very thing my father had been looking for a test that would not confuse him to death and that worked, with more research and study it became apparent to us that conventional farming was not going to work for us and sustainable farming was the way to go it was working the soil crop yields showed it we are able to be more confident about the yields soil drainage after a rain less disease problems and less rotting of grain. I will post more another time, as it stands today conventional soil tests are good to give one an idea of what is in the soil not available the reams test is the one that closely reflects what is going on in the field.

  • Guest - Jamie Hurst

    I am very new to all of this and am looking for how to create soil that can be used to create container pots for herb gardens.
    I do not want to purchase any soil from our local feed stores because I do not have a clue what is in it.
    I have sent a sample of my soil at my home of 63′x210′ and Luke Lemmers is preparing a mineral mixture to add to this depleted soil for this purpose. I am a master gardener and a graduate of the RBTI School in Tennessee by Dr. Wiles who took over the work or Dr. Reams for helping us to be healthier. I am very concerned about blood test for people and realize the uncertainy for the info we get from that and see why we could have some of the same problems with soil. I know some types of diabetees can be cured because after my daughter and son-in-law came to live with me the Medical Doctors took him off of insulin because he was no longer a diabetic after eating the better food (less meat more veggies & whole grains and less fruit) that I had to offer. I want to be able to use the formula of how to treat the depleted soil and add to it other things to create my own mixture for a certain plant (like Perlite, Vermiculite, peat moss, compost and cow and or pidgen manure. I go for my first appointment tomorrow to help one of my best friends create an herb garden. Please let me know your thoughts as soon as you can. Thank you. Jamie Hurst in Kaplan, LA…337-523-9380 or jamie123hurst@yahoo.com —also I have a Facebook section but you have to invite me to be a friend.

  • Guest - joevic tabligan

    I am from Phil. I just want to ask if you have idea on how to manage a mango plantation and sugar cane farm. what kind of fertilizers is best to improve it’s quality.

  • Guest - Garry Wass

    This is fascinating but at the same time bewildering and reinforces why I’ve gotten stopped over and over again in biological ag over 30 years of struggles. It seems like I never quite get the big picture or am not quite diligent enough to do all the details or can’t afford all the things I need. But as I come back for another try, I’ve got to relax, do the best to understand what I can and try to improve my skills a little more every year, which is to say that I really appreciate having access to this information.

  • As quantity of available nutrients in the soil determines the amount of fertilizer that is recommended in. Soil tests also include soil pH, humic matter in the soil. creating a Soil Mix for Blueberries will help me make some more better. Nice Post.

    from 12, Indore-Icchapur Road, Ashok Nagar, Navlakha, Indore, Madhya Pradesh 452001, India