Soil Testing Right Behind the Combine

This submission is courtesy of Dr. David Franzen, Extension Soil Specialist, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. It was originally published in the AGVISE Newsletter Fall 2019.

It is more the rule than the exception that soil sampling begins in mid-September, rather than starting immediately following small grain harvest. However, many producers miss an excellent window for soil testing by waiting too long. The reason for waiting is the hope that additional nitrogen will be made available through mineralization (i.e. decomposition of crop residue and organic matter). A review of research has shown that soil nitrate levels change very little, up or down, following small grain harvest.

Soil sampling right after harvest is recommended and has numerous advantages.

  1. Producers are more likely to use the actual soil test results for deciding fall nitrogen fertilizer rates if the soil test results are in their hands soon enough to consider before fall fieldwork begins.
  2. Soil sampling before to fall tillage provides more consistent 0-6 inch soil cores, which provides the best soil sample quality for phosphorus, potassium, zinc, organic matter, and other non-mobile soil nutrients.
  3. Soil sampling right after harvest guarantees that fields will be soil sampled on time and not missed due to weather problems that could happen later in the fall.