If you are planning to apply to the Healthy Soils program, you will need to have your soil tested for organic matter content. But doing a complete soil analysis can also be beneficial to the nutrient management on your farm. Below are the basics of why you can benefit from a soil analysis, where/how to get one nearby, and how to start understanding the results.
Why get a soil test?
As we all know, every farm and field is a little different. Maps like SoilWeb are a great tool to help identify the basic soil type found in your fields. They even give information on how your soil type/texture will affect water infiltration and holding, nutrient cycling, and soil pH. These maps and data are increasingly accurate and are a good starting point. However, the only way to know what is happening in the soil in your field is to get a soil test. This can then help you identify nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, pH levels, salinity concerns, and other soil health factors like organic matter.
How and where do I get a soil test?
Collecting your own soil sample is a simple process. If you do not have a soil probe, all you need is a clean spade and a clean plastic bucket or plastic bag. The NRCS has a useful handout with pictures on how to collect your own sample, or check out the UC Small Farms guide to taking your soil sample.
Once you have your soil sample in a bag (most labs want about 2 lbs of soil, which fills about half of a gallon-size zip plastic bag) , make sure to label it with your name, date, exact location of your field, and any other useful information. You can drop off your sample to a laboratory during their business hours, and usually get results within a week.
What do my results mean?
The laboratory that tests your soil will often give you some interpretation on the results, and you can ask if they have handouts/further information specific to your crop. This is a good starting point to breaking down the numbers in your report.
If you are concerned about soil salinity, the UC Salinity Management website will tell you if the salts in your soils are affecting the plant growth and yield for your specific crop, as well as recommended salinity management practices.