Once you receive your test report, an important measurement to pay attention to is the pH. Soil pH affects the plant's ability to absorb nutrients and grow. A common problem with many soils is that they are too acidic (which means they have a low pH). In fact, it's quite common for soil test reports to come back recommending three tons of lime per acre! Too much lime is rarely a problem, so don't worry if you think you put out slightly more lime than the soil report recommends.
A soil pH of 7.0 is considered neutral and is ideal for growing many agricultural crops such as alfalfa, while a soil pH of 6.0 is considered adequate for growing most food plot crops. A soil with a pH of 5.0 is 10 times more acidic than a soil with a pH of 6.0, and many of the nutrients in the soil will not be available to the crops because they will be tied up in the soil solution. Raising the soil pH makes the soil less acidic, releasing more nutrients allowing them to be available to a growing crop. Other benefits include improved bacterial activity and nitrogen fixation by legumes along with improved physical condition of the soil. We accomplish this by adding lime and mixing it into the soil.
In acidic soils, the nitrogen and phosphorus will be bonded to the soil and will be unavailable for the plant. Even when fertilizer is applied, only a small amount can be used by the plant and the rest will remain locked in the soil particles. Lime raises the pH level unlocking soil nutrients and helping in the break down of organic matter for use by the plants.
Taking the time to properly test your soil can be the most important thing you do this spring. Understanding your soil pH and what your phosphorus and potassium fertility levels are can help you make a better decision of what to plant, which fertilizer blend to use, and whether or not you need to apply lime. The information obtained from a soil test provides a roadmap for achieving successful food plots. You put a lot of effort and expense into striving for the best food plots possible; don't overlook the first and most important step.
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