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Analyzing Soil - How to Understand

the Productive Capacity of Your Land

Justin Duban B.Sc.

Duban Farms Ltd.
Lethbridge, AB
-Summary of the soil testing process

-Share the types of analysis that we do on our farm, divided into 3 categories:




-Then discuss how these results impact the management of one particular
Why soil test?
Evaluate soil fertility: determine the level of macro and micro nutrients that
are present in the soil

Evaluate soil quality: measure the chemical and physical properties of a soil
that contribute to crop grow (pH, texture, electrical conductivity, organic

Evaluate the long term effects of soil management: tracking the measure of
soil fertility and quality over a period of a decade or more can indicate the
positive or negative effects that management is having on a soil

If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it!

The 3 Phases of Soil Testing
1. Soil Sampling
2. Lab Analysis
3. Interpretation of Results
Soil Sampling
Your soil sample must be representative of thousands of tons of soil.

The quality of your sampling technique will reflect the quality of the results

Must follow four rules to take good samples.

1. Sample at the Right Time of Year
Ideally sample soil in the spring prior to seeding annual crops for best

Alternatively fall sampling can be completed after the soil temperature has
dropped below 7 degrees Celsius or as close to freeze up as possible.

-allows for samples to be properly processed

-gives more time to receive test results and recommendations

-provides a chance develop a plan to adapt crop rotation and amend fertility
2. Use Proper Tools To Take Samples
Hand Probe (0-18”)- can efficiently sample depth in one step, but lacks
penetration for deeper sampling or hard conditions.

Hand (Dutch) Auger (0-42”)- can sample most conditions or depths, but
requires more effort and is slower.

Hydraulic Probe (0-24”)- fast and efficient for high capacity sampling, but
limited on depth and maneuverability of vehicle in soft conditions.

Alternatively a shovel can be used to take a soil slice, but precision is poor and
depth is severely limited.

Use washed clean plastic pails to contain each sample separately.

3. Sample Representative Areas of the Field
Take samples from areas that represent the largest proportion of the field.

Avoid sampling areas of anomaly such as saline areas, low spots, eroded
knolls, fence rows or areas where feed, hay or manure were stored.

If there are significant areas in a field that are different, they should be
sampled separately.

Aim to collect from 15-20 sample sites to achieve a good representative

4. Properly Prepare the Samples for Lab Analysis
Clean your hands, tools and work area before handling soil. Work away from
stored fertilizer, manure or feed.

Appropriately label provided soil sample bags with farm, field and sample

Thoroughly mix each sample and fill the sample bags to the marked level
(about 1 pound).

Immediately deliver the sample to the lab for analysis, if there is a short delay
they can be refrigerated until shipped. If there is an extended delay before
shipping, the samples can be frozen after bagging or fully air dried and than
Sample Depth Options
0-6” sample at very minimum

0-6, 6-24” costs slightly more but provides much more information

0-6, 6-12, 12-24” is ideal for most situations

Can sample up to 48” for deep rooted crops or to monitor leaching and
Four Main Sampling Patterns
1. Random sampling
2. Grid sampling (eg. 1 per square ac)
3. Topographical sampling (eg. hi, mid, lo)
4. Benchmark/Zone sampling (eg. soil type, texture, slope)

Can be georeferenced (with GPS) to sample from same site each year.
Choose a Lab
Find a reputable lab

Best to stick with labs in Western Canada. Their extraction methods are
specifically calibrated for our local conditions. US or Ontario labs may provide
results or recommendations that are not relevant.

Stay with same lab year after year to ensure comparable results.

Request nutrient recommendations with the analysis if you are not confident
interpreting the results.
Questions on the fundamentals of soil testing?
Testing done on Duban Farms
Example parcel is the ‘North Field’

Irrigated by pivot with corner arm

Lots of variability: topography, texture, drainage, salinity, crop management

Results are from the 2018 growing season

July 28, 2018

Blue = Hi

Red = Lo

Green = Hi

Red = Lo
Low Areas
High Areas
Soil Foodweb - Microbiology
Need to have functioning soil ecology for: nutrient cycling, disease/pest resistance,
soil aggregation, etc.

Most crops grow best with a balanced fungal to bacterial ratio (F:B). Generally
agricultural soil is highly bacterial due to typical management.

Bacteria- base of foodweb, feed on simple organic compounds, reproduce quickly

Fungi- also at base, decompose complex organic compounds, sensitive to tillage

Protozoa- feed on bacteria cycling nutrients, require adequate oxygen/water

Nematodes- feed on bacteria, fungi, pest larvae or nematodes depending on type

Moisture Monitoring
9.2” water applied in 2018
Water Infiltration
Carefully pound a ring into soil, measure the time
required to infiltrate 1” of water into soil and record,
repeat with a second inch of water.

Location Time to Calculated Infiltration

Infiltrate 1” Rate Class

Undisturbed 38 seconds 93.1 inches/hr Very Rapid

Wheel Track 707 seconds 5.1 inches/hr Moderately

Earthworm Count
Excavation Size: 12” X 12” X 6” deep = 0.5 cubic feet

Ideal conditions: pH 5-7.4, medium texture, low salinity, low disturbance

Under cultivation 10 is good, 20 max expected, up to 50 in native grassland

North Counts

Average 26

All Field Average 19.3

All Field Range 0-61

Brix Readings
Is a measure of dissolved solid content (sugar) of a solution.

Hemp 3 Low blurriness Below average

Barley 10 High blurriness Above average

Plant Count
Hemp TWK=11.09g 99% germ 47 seeds/ft^2

Machine Plant stand/ft^2 % Emergence Standard Deviation

Air Hoe Drill 20.4 43.4 6.72

Box Disc Drill 19.3 41.0 10.10

Measuring Compaction with a Penetrometer
Measure when soil profile is a field capacity

Insert probe at a steady rate of 1” per second

Record the depth of any compaction layers, as well as depth when reading is
at 150/200 psi (penetration limit for most roots) and 300 psi (limit for all roots)

Location 200 psi depth 300 psi depth

Undisturbed 7.5” 8.8”

Wheel Track 6.2” 6.2”

Agriculture Canada Monitoring
Sampling of every field for 3-5 years

Soil: nutrients, texture, organic matter, etc.

Crop: biomass, grain yield

Weeds: count, type, biomass, seed bank

Microbiology: types, quantity

Nematodes: number, species

July 17, 2018
Sept 17, 2018
Wrap up
If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it

The quality of your results is only as good as the quality of data that you

Testing is a valuable way to verify the outcome of on-farm trials

Only spend time collecting data if you intend to use it

Check out the USDA ‘Soil Quality Test Kit Guide’ for more details of procedures