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Soil test box.

AUBURN, Ala. – Many hunters and outdoor enthusiasts plant food plots to help manage deer habitats. Today, more and more deer hunters implement warm and cool season food plots for a variety of purposes. When planting food plots, soil tests are crucial to a plot’s success. Extension professionals discuss the importance and the benefits of soil testing.

Soil Testing is Important

Norm Haley, an Alabama Extension regional agent covering forestry, wildlife and natural resource management, said that soil testing is the first step in having a successful food plot.

“Soil testing is the first step because it helps determine what the site needs to produce the most palatable and attractive forages,” Haley said. “Acidic soils that lack nutrients will be poor producers. A soil test tells the farmer/hunter what lime and fertilizers are required to turn a poor site into a producer.” Successful food plots begin with soil testing.

Jordan Graves, also a regional agent specializing in forestry, wildlife and natural resource management, said plants grow best with particular soil conditions.

“Different species of plants require different soil conditions,” Graves said. “Biomass increases when soil pH and nutrient levels are sufficient, based on the particular species.”

Some commonly used plants in food plots are alfalfa, chicory and clovers. Growers also use some small grain mixtures such as corn, soybean and corn mixtures, oats, winter rye, ryegrass, soybeans, cowpeas and wheat.

What Do Tests Show?

Graves said that soil tests look at three things: nutrient levels, pH and soil composition.

“Nutrient levels show the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that are in the soil,” Graves said. “pH levels show how acetic soils are and growers adjust these levels by applying lime to a field. Soil composition references to clay, sand or loam soils.”

Haley said that soil tests determine which levels need to be adjusted in a field.

“From the tests results, the lab provides recommendations that the site requires for each particular crop a person intends to plant,” Haley said. “These recommendations are provided in tons of lime per acre and in pounds of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium per acre.”

Healthy Food Plots

Haley said that a healthier food plots are more nutritious and sought out by wildlife.

“Healthy or properly limed and fertilized plots will be the most productive and attractive to deer and other wildlife,” Haley said. “If you are testing and following the recommendations and your neighbor isn’t, your plots will draw more attention from deer and other wildlife.”

Soil Tests Cut Costs

Graves said that a soil test will tell you how much fertilizer to use and what nutrients are most needed. Without this, a person is blindly guessing what the soil needs, which adds to their overall costs.

“If you do not amend your soils correctly, you could be wasting money on the seed you put in the ground, fuel used to plant the plots, time and effort you put in,” Graves said. “You may waste money putting out incorrect amounts of fertilizer or putting out lime when the soil doesn’t need it.”

Soil testing is one of the most economical ways to ensure that your plot will produce,” Haley adds. “A properly limed field allows plants to use minerals and nutrients that would otherwise not be available for uptake in lower pH or acidic soils. In other words, if you’re fertilizing a low pH field, you may be wasting money.”

More Information

For information on how to collect and send a soil sample for testing, visit the Soil, Forage, & Water Testing Laboratory’s website. The fee for testing a is $7 per sample. Soil test boxes and forms are available at any county Extension office. Visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension agent for more information.

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