So earlier this week, in his Reachout Article, Mike talked about the Dollars and Cents behind the need for soil tests, and how it is an expense that we can realistically expect to recuperate in very short order while managing our input costs vs. fertility needs. That article got me thinking about another article that I had seen a week or so ago also the practice of utilizing soil tests to reduce fertilizer expenses. While on the surface they promoted the same idea, (without the math to provide a better context as Mike had), something about that Newsletter didn’t sit well in my Craw, and today we are going to hash it out. In short, they said, don’t have your fertilizer dealer do your soil sampling for you. My simple reply to that is, “Why not? We have been promoting the idea of proper fertilizer rates for as long as anybody.”
Have we as fertilizer dealers done such a great disservice to the industry over the past 20 years that we can’t be trusted? If only there were some unbiased source of information out there that could show that despite the best efforts of a system that is a supplier of the input, that the fertilizer industry is not driving fertility rates ever higher across the Midwest.
Oh wait, there is such a source, and it is the International Plant Nutrition Institute or IPNI. I have referenced them in the past, and today I shall do so once more. First, let’s look at Phosphorus, and soils that would be considered very low (<5 ppm) or low (5-10 ppm.) In 2001, 15.5% of all samples were at 10 ppm or below, and in 2015 that number is 20.3%. In our 10-20 ppm range, we have dropped from 31.4% to 26.8%. And in our optimal range (21-30 ppm) we have gone from 21.0% to 18.2%. Our High range tests between 31-50 ppm have remained almost even, going up only 0.2%. The only real range that has seen an increase is the 50 ppm plus range growing 2.5% over this time frame, but I believe that manure application probably has as much to do with those numbers as anything.
Even with Fertilizer dealers being the Primary source of fertility recommendations for the last 15-20 years our very low tests grew, and our Mid Levels to Optimum test shrunk in Phosphate. I could go through the same exercise with Potassium, but I will save you the numbers and say that the story is the same, in that our 200> ppm Potassium has shrunk from 82.3% of all soil tests in 2001 to 76.8% in 2015. Also, pH has been working itself slightly better in all categories, with our pH values between 6.1 and 7.0 increasing from 40.9% to 44.5% in this same time period.
So when somebody says that Fertilizer Dealers, Coops, or full-service Ag Retail Centers aren’t where to go to get your Fertility needs addressed, I say why not. It is quite obvious to me looking at the data from the last four reporting cycles that this industry is quite capable of putting aside whatever bias that we are perceived to have, and make reasonable and prudent fertilizer recommendations. We have been here for a lot more than 20 years serving you. We have seen $1.60 and $7.50 corn along the way and adjusted with you to meet your fiscal needs at the time while also balancing your crops needs.
And this is my take home for you today. To imply that any Agronomic Advisor that has built a program that has proven itself to bring value your operation over the years has any intention of selling Tons vs. enabling your long-term success is irresponsible. These Fertilizer Dealers, we Fertilizer Dealers have a much deeper vested interest in your operation than making a recommendation that is not the best possible solution to your overall needs. Not only do you own part of our company, we see you at every football game, every Fireman’s Meeting, and when we go into the grocery store. Your long-term success is more important to us than any short-term gain of a few extra pounds here or there. We have embraced this role that we have serving you for a long time, and as ACS Manager at Central Valley Ag, I plan to continue that tradition for a long time to come.