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Why Soil Tests are Important for Food Plots

Posted by 
June 16, 2014
2080   Comment

In case you haven't noticed, deer hunters are turning into farmers. Every year more and more deer hunters are planting food plots to supplement the natural food sources used by white-tailed deer. But they are skipping the most important part of planting food plots — the part no farmer would ever skip. Knowing their soil.

Think a like a farmer — get to know your food plot soil by testing it.

Farmers know their soil. They know which ground to plant early and which to plant late. They know what to run in dry ground and where their plants will have "wet feet." They know its every characteristic down to its smallest detail. And that includes its nutrient composition and pH. Farmers test their soil on a regular basis. They have to; it's how they make their living. It can be the difference between a good year of growing and a bankruptcy sale. It's about that simple.

Fortunately for food plotters, no one will go bankrupt if a food plot fails. Your deer may have less to eat, and the hunting might be poor, but a plot failure won't send you into bankruptcy. Maybe that's why so many food plotters ignore the advice of every seed manufacturer and every planting expert on the planet and skip the most important step of every food plot program: doing a soil test!

What Every Good Farmer Knows

A soil test will tell you everything you need to know about your soil. It will tell you what nutrients and minerals are present and which ones are lacking. Minerals and nutrients are what plants extract from the soil to live on and grow. The most important ones are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), which stimulates growth. Without them plants will die. All soils have minerals and nutrients; the only difference is not all soils have the same amounts of them. That's why we add them in the form of fertilizer. That's what the N-P-K stands for on the bag.

A soil test will also tell you something even more important. It will tell you whether your soil is either too acidic or too alkaline ("sweet"); or, if you are lucky, that your soil is "just right." This is referred to as the soil's pH reading.

Knowing What's "Just Right" and What's Not

A soil's pH determines what nutrients (N-P-K mainly) will be used to feed plants. The pH determines how and what percentage of the nutrients will be made available to the plants. And this includes any fertilizer you may add. the pH is reported on a scale of 1-14. A score of 7 is "just right" for growing most plants and all food plot forages. Anything below 5.5 is too acidic for most plants to thrive in and above 8 can be too "alkaline." Few parts of the country have excessively "alkaline" oils. Most soils range from excessively acidic (5.0 and under) to neutral (around 7.0). The closer your soil is to 7.0, the more N-P-K (and others) will be made available to your plants. That means the better the pH, the less fertilizer you need to apply to the soil.

Luckily, soil pH can be adjusted by adding lime to the soil. An acidic or "sour" soil of say 5.3, which will release very few nutrients to plants, can be "sweetened" to a 6.5-7, which will allow nutrients to be readily released. Thus, a "sour" inhospitable soil can be turned into a "just right" growing soil by adding lime to neutralize the acidity.

Farmers spend thousands of dollars analyzing and building their soils in an attempt to squeeze every bit of production out of every acre of ground. They do it by an extensive soil analysis in order to determine how much lime (to balance soil acidity or pH) and what mixtures of N-P-K to add to the soil to grow a given crop. Believe me; they wouldn't do it if it didn't matter! Food plotters can accomplish the same thing with a fraction of the investment of time and money.

Tagged under Read 2080 times Last modified on September 9, 2016
Craig Dougherty

Craig Dougherty has been active in the hunting industry for over 30 years. He currently is president of NorthCountry Whitetails, a wildlife consulting company which specializes in developing deer hunting properties. He and his son Neil currently manage over 300,000 acres of whitetail habitat and are continuously developing new and improved techniques for growing and hunting mature bucks. They have published two books on whitetails and their NorthCountry Rut Tracking Report is read by hundreds of thousands of deer enthusiasts each fall. They are frequent presenters at deer gatherings, appear on TV and in videos, and are regularly cited in articles. His most recent book, "Whitetails: From Ground to Gun", can be found at Bass Pro Shops and online at Craig has been a senior executive in the archery industry, served on many hunting industry boards, and is past Chairman and a current Director of QDMA.

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