Western Kansas

By Richard C. Snell

Barton County Extension Agricultural Agent.

For years, I have told you that soil testing was a recommended practice for farmers, for home gardeners or those with lawns.

Well, now, the State Conservation Commission and the Barton County Soil Conservation District is helping me put my money where my mouth is--or so to speak.

From now until March 30, you can receive reimbursed cost-share money just for having your soil tested. Just bring about a pint of soil in to the Extension office, 12th and Baker St., in Great Bend, just to the northeast across from the Elks Lodge.

This program is part of our non-point source pollution program in the county that we developed several years ago. Proper nutrient management is an important part of this. With our sandy soils and shallow water table in the south part of the county and with our sloping land to the north and west with run-off potential, the possibility to have fertilizer contamination to the water is always there.

For a lawn or garden sample, you probably only need a routine analysis. This includes the pH of the soil, the amount of phosphorus and available potassium in the soil.

For farm crop analysis, I recommend an organic matter test (especially if you have never had one done on a field) and a nitrogen profile test. Now for the available nitrogen test, we like to have you go down a full 24 inches deep. That shouldn't be a problem though as wet as it is right now.

After you leave the samples with us and pay for them, you can take your receipt over to the Soil Conservation District. It is located at 16th and Kansas St., in Great Bend, just north of the J.C. Penney store. Visit with Pam Tucker and she will have you fill out the proper forms to get reimbursed.

For a lawn sample, you should go about four inches deep and for most gardens, six inches is adequate depth. In all cases, it is best if you dig or probe about 10 places scattered throughout the area you want to test. Then, mix all that soil thoroughly in a plastic bucket and pull out about a pint for the actual test. We have soil sample bags that you can use and a soil probe you can borrow.

For field crop samples, I recommend that you go six inches deep for no-till and about eight inches for conventional or minimum till. The main thing is to stay consistent with your depth on each core of soil you pull for the most accurate results. For the profile nitrogen, go down in the same hole to a depth of 24 inches.

The goal of soil testing is to help us evaluate our soil, so we can manage our nutrients properly. If we put on too much fertilizer, we are not only wasting money but are potentially polluting the surface and groundwater, because the excess is not used by the plant. On the flip side, if we don't adequately fertilize, we are not getting our full efficient economic yield.

We send our samples to Kansas State University's soil testing lab and they send us back the analysis. Then, I make the recommendations based on your crop, your yield goals, local conditions and what the tests show.

The cost for a routine test is $6.50 and the other tests amount to about $5.50. So you can get $12 of testing on each field. Normally, we like to have you sample fields, divided into areas of 40 acres or less. Usually, you should at least divide fields by the intended crop and what the previous crop was.

We will be waiting for your samples, but we can't wait too long if you want your money back, because this program only lasts a few days. We have about $1000 available to spend and it probably won't last long.

Mark your calendar for Thursday, March 29, for a cereal forage grazing field day, in the St. John area. It begins with coffee and rolls at 9:30 a.m., with the actual tour starting at 10 a.m., at the Sandyland Experiment Field, three miles south of St. John, one-half mile west and one-fourth mile north.

The tour will conclude with a hot lunch, at the First National Bank Hospitality Room located on the town square in St. John.

The tour will focus on grazing wheat, rye and tritacle, as well as a discussion of the grazing program underway at the experiment field. Dr. Steve Paisley, area Extension livestock specialist from the K-State area office, in Hutchinson, who is conducting the research, will lead this.

You might give me a call, at 316-793-1910, if you are planning to eat.

On that same day, Thursday, March 29, there is an indoor conference at Arkansas City. It will be held at the Brown Center, on the campus of Cowley County Community College. It begins at 9:30 a.m. A luncheon will be held at 12 noon and the program ends in mid-afternoon.

This year's theme is Forage Crops Role in Water Quality Improvement. Sessions will be divided between alfalfa and other forage crops. The alfalfa program will cover diseases, varieties, production tips, herbicides and biotechnology. The other forages will include discussion on cool season grasses, eastern gamagrass, native grass, crabgrass and bermuda grass.

Registration is $20 at the door or $15 in advance. For pre-registration, call 620-431-1530.

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