Evolving Soil Sampling

Evolving Soil Sampling from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

When it comes to accuracy, what you are doing is every bit as important as how accurate you’re doing it. The old saying is that “close only counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.” In either case, being in the ballpark is enough to get the job done. On the other side, there is Golf. The only measurement of success is to get the ball in the cup, and nothing else is worth any points. When it comes to farming, and specifically fertility, we have had a changing of mentality over the years. 20 years ago, we viewed fertility like a grenade, get it close, and that is good enough. Then times began to change, and we thought of fertility more like horseshoes; if I get it pretty close, I will get some ringers, and some leaners, and in the end, that will be close enough for success. But as things continue to evolve, I would say that fertility is moving more towards golf, and I think that’s a good thing for all of us.

Today, I am going to do something that I don’t normally do, and that excludes part of the group. It’s no secret that when it comes to fertility that there are two camps, the Grid People, and the Zone People. I want to be clear in saying that both camps exist for a reason, and that is that there are times when each one is a better fit than the other. I am not here today to move anybody from one camp to the other. I want you all to understand that. Your local trusted Advisor is in a much better position to help you understand which system is right for you than I am. With that being said… Zone People listen up because today it’s all about you. Grid people, I invite you to come along for the ride as an interested bystander.

Zones have gone through more evolutions than Grids in the last 15 years, and it is not even a close race. We started with the old Soil Survey lines and began to use those as our Zone differentiation piece. As time has passed, we realized that the maps we had of our soils were not as accurate as our ability to measure the crop. So we implemented imagery and yield solutions to pattern how the crop grew and utilized that as our base layer. As the quality of our imagery and yield maps improved, so did our accuracy. The thing was all along the soil never stopped being the piece that should be the base of what we did. But the reality was that our ability to implement the crops growth into the equation outpaced our ability to improve our soil map. That is where electrical conductivity came into play. EC maps gave us a much higher resolution of our field’s soil than we had before, by giving us a map of what in essence is water holding capacity.

And while the EC map is nothing new, we found ourselves with a bit of a dilemma on our hands. The software that was at our disposal didn’t let us put the two pieces together in a way that we could service growers in a timely fashion. When we made the change to FieldReveal though, that was no longer an issue. And here is the take home for today. When you look at soil alone, you are limited by three classes, High Water Holding Capacity, Average Water Holding Capacity, and Low Water Holding capacity. You can make the argument that sand, silt, and clay are each a differentiation, but in the end, it is still three classes. On the flip side, you can break yield down into as many classes as you want but it all comes down to how it performs vs. the average. Today’s zones still choose one method or the other. The thing is we no longer have to choose. We are actively out in the country today with our Advanced Zones showing how much more definition that we can achieve than we had in the past.

But as I said before, Grid Guys, don’t feel left behind. Your time is coming for advancements in your program as well. But today it is about Zones. If you are a Zone Sampling grower, talk to your FSA about how Advanced Zones would work in your field. Every day that passes we see more and more data that shows us why this next step is important for the evolution of your fertility program. Because in the end, this isn’t Horseshoes or Hand Grenades.