Reasons to Soil Test this Spring

Are you planning to have your soil tested this spring? After March 30, the peak season fee for soil testing will not be applied. That’s right – you can have your soil tested for free!

Do you need more reasons to bring those samples in for testing? Here’s a list, courtesy of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:


What is a Soil Test?
soil test is a process by which elements (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc) are chemically removed from the soil and measured for their “plant available” content within the sample. The quantity of available nutrients in the sample determines the amount of fertilizer that is recommended. A soil test also measures soil pH, humic matter and exchangeable acidity. These analyses indicate whether lime is needed and, if so, how much to apply.
Why Do You Need A Soil Test?
Encourages plant growth by providing the best lime and fertilizer recommendations.
When growers guess about the need for lime or fertilizers, too little or too much is likely to be applied. By using a soil test report, the grower does not need to guess.For Example: When applying too much lime, soil pH may rise above the needed level, which causes nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc to become less available to plants.

It is also common to see homeowners purchase one bag of lime when they purchase one bag of fertilizer. Based on an average lawn size of 5000 square feet, one bag of fertilizer may be enough. Applying one bag of lime over 5000 square feet, however, will have little effect on soil pH.

Diagnoses whether there is too little or too much of a nutrient. 

Promotes environmental quality.
When gardeners apply only as much fertilizer as is necessary, nutrient runoff into surface or ground water is minimized and natural resources are conserved.

Saves money that might otherwise be spent on unneeded lime and fertilizer.
For example, growers of flue-cured tobacco often routinely apply phosphorus. In areas where soil levels are high in phosphorus, a soil test could save these farmers up to $60 per acre.

Soil test kits are available at the Durham County Cooperative Extension Office, 721 Foster Street. It’s easy, it’s free from April through November, it may save you money on fertilizer, it’s good for the environment AND your plants.

-Ann Barnes

Avoid the Peak Season Fee – Soil Test Now

This year, NC will be instituting a peak-season soil test fee of $4 from December through March. If you are planning to have your soil tested before spring, please submit your samples in November if you wish to avoid the fee.

Soil test kits are available at the Cooperative Extension office at 721 Foster Street. Collected samples can also be dropped off at the office.

Why do we recommend soil tests? Without the information a soil test provides, a homeowner has to guess how much fertilizer to apply to lawns, gardens, and landscape beds. If too little is applied, plants do not get all the nutrients they need to thrive. Too much fertilizer can burn plants, run off and pollute ground water and streams, and waste money.

NEW Peak Season Soil Test Fee

Peak-season soil-test fee coming this fall/winter

The 2013 Appropriations Act passed by the General Assembly approved a $4 fee for soil samples analyzed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the period from December through March. The fee is an attempt to lessen the backlog associated with the busy season when the lab is routinely inundated with tens of thousands of samples. The rest of the year — April through November — NCDA&CS will continue to analyze soil samples without a fee.

In fiscal year 2013, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division analyzed nearly 368,000 soil samples. About 60 percent of these arrived at the lab during the peak season of December through March, slowing processing turnaround time to nine weeks at one point. At other times of the year, processing can easily be completed in two to four weeks, depending on sample volume.

The new peak-season fee should accomplish two goals. First of all, it will encourage more growers to submit samples earlier, thereby fostering a more balanced sample load throughout the year. Secondly, the fee will enhance sustainability of the soil-testing program because receipts generated in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 are earmarked for improvements such as automated equipment, additional peak-season personnel and computer-programming enhancements.

The vast majority of soil samples analyzed during the winter months are from farms in preparation for spring planting. Most of these samples can be collected and submitted well before December 1st, thus avoiding the fee. Nearly all soil samples associated with home and garden and landscaping projects can be collected and submitted from April through November.

Soil samples received during the peak season will be processed in the order received without any guarantees regarding turnaround time. However, clients can purchase NCDA&CS expedited shippers to receive a guaranteed turnaround time of 10 business days. This year, 525 shippers will be sold. The anticipated 2013-14 price for a 36-sample shipper is $200.

During peak season, the sample receiving process will change. Sample drop-offs at the Eaddy Building in Raleigh must take place during business hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday). A locked gate will prevent access afterhours and on weekends. This procedure will increase the security of samples and improve client access to Agronomic Division personnel.

By late fall 2013, clients will have the convenience of entering sample and payment (credit card) information online via the PALS website. Cash and checks will be accepted for peak-season samples only if deposited in advance in an escrow account. Payment should never be placed inside shippers.

This year, December 1st falls on a Sunday and is preceded by the Thanksgiving holidays. Wednesday, November 27th, will be the last business day of the month for the soil-testing lab. Any soil samples arriving after 6 p.m. on November 27th will be subject to the peak-season fee because they will not be logged in and processed until December 2nd.

Contact the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division office at 919-733-2655 if you have any questions regarding the new peak-season soil-testing fee or the purchase of expedited shippers.

(per NCDA&CS)