Last updated: October 14. 2013 3:01PM
James Hartsfield Contributing columnist



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In today’s economy, consumers are always looking for ways to save money. One of the most practical ways to save money is to have your soil tested. Soil testing is a service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at their Agronomic Division in Raleigh.


For farmers, soil testing is the first step in planning an economical and environmentally sound fertilization program. The efficient use of nutrients can help reduce fertilizer costs and environmental concerns without reducing yield or quality. This requires a well-planned fertilization program based on soil sampling, wise selection of nutrients based on needs and costs and proper application of fertilizers. For homeowners, soil testing takes the guesswork out of maintaining the soil in optimum condition for plant growth and development.


A soil test will access the present levels of major plant nutrients, soil pH, and micronutrients. Recommendations will include the amounts of lime and fertilizer, if necessary, to meet the requirements of the specific plant or crop being grown.


Collect samples three to six months before planting time. Taking good samples, filling out paperwork properly, and packaging samples for delivery in a well-organized manner are important.


For the first time, through The Appropriations Act of 2013 passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, a new $4 fee will be charged for all soil samples processed by the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division during its busiest season: December through March. There will still be no fee from April through November. The fee for waste analysis will also increase from $5 to $8 after December 1. Fees for other specific tests including plant tissue analysis, solution analysis, and nematodes will remain the same. These fees are being implemented to encourage more growers to sample early and for improvements to the agronomic lab such as new equipment, additional peak-season personnel and computer-programming enhancements. So it is very important to get your samples to Raleigh by November 27, to avoid the new fees.


Soil sample boxes and forms can be picked up at the Cooperative Extension Office. Samples can be mailed to the lab in Raleigh or dropped off at the Cooperative Extension Office where they will be delivered to Raleigh. Extension agents can also assist you in interpreting the soil test results or developing a soil treatment plan.


Remember, having your soil tested before planting gives you the opportunity to increase the yields on your farm or improve your landscape around the house.

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