Test Your Soil

Saving on input costs

Manitoba farmers are constantly re-evaluating the science of crop production to find ways to reduce input costs. One way is to match fertilizer application to the needs of each crop. You can do this by testing your soil nutrient levels regularly and applying only what you need to meet specific crop requirements.

Regular testing equals improved net economic returns

The complex science of soil and nutrient management can be approached in different ways. Ideally, you should invest in a soil test each year to determine your existing nutrient levels and to develop your fertilizer program for the upcoming season.

Where do excess nutrients go?

Soils have some ability to store nutrients applied in excess of crop needs. But over-fertilizing may lead to problems such as excessive vegetative growth, delayed maturity, lodging and reduced quality. And the problems of over-fertilizing may not end with visible results at the edge and surface of your field.

Rain, spring run-off and natural drainage can rob your land of nutrients and further down the road can affect water quality in creeks, rivers and lakes. Nutrients can also leach into ground water supplies, creating many serious problems that are long-term and far-reaching. Under waterlogged conditions, some nutrients can be converted to greenhouse gases.

Protecting the environment - at home and down the road

Certain levels of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are essential for healthy water systems. However, when present in excessive amounts, they lead to the nuisance growth of algae and underwater plants. This growth disrupts the natural balance and the health of lakes and waterways. The effects are harmful to fish and to people using lakes and waterways for recreation.

Excess nutrients in waterways are a multi-source problem. For example, nutrients that end up in Lake Winnipeg can be traced to our neighbours outside Manitoba borders, to rural, urban and industrial activities along waterways in southern parts of the province, and in some cases, to run-off from agricultural operations.

Even the seemingly small actions taken on your farm to benefit a single crop, can affect a larger scale environment. It’s important to keep in mind that we’re all part of the same community. Our individual actions, on our own land, can affect many people.

Applying manure

When using manure as a fertilizer, you need to test twice - one test for the soil and one test for the level of nutrients in the manure. As with chemical fertilization, before applying manure, you need to compare existing soil nutrient levels with specific crop requirements.

Follow provincial regulations and guidelines for manure management and application. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) has a wide range of information on manure management planning and the best ways of incorporating manure into your crop production systems.

Finding products that work best for your soil

If you’re wondering whether a specific fertilizer product is effective under Manitoba growing conditions, talk to your local MAFRD GO Office staff or trusted crop advisor. Some product claims we see in international advertising may refer to specific soil and cropping conditions in other regions, where soil and climate conditions are very different. MAFRI staff can help you determine if a product is suited to your soil type and the crops you’re producing.

An adequate supply of crop nutrients is required to optimize crop yields and quality. Crop nutrients not taken up by plants are stored in the soil. Excess amounts can blow away, wash away or waste away your valuable soil nutrients.


Did you know?

  1. The average wheat crop needs 85 pounds of nitrogen per acre every year, and removes about 65 pounds of that nitrogen in the grain.
  2. Applying manure to crops is an effective way of fertilizing crops and recycling manure resources. Manitoba's livestock industry provides approximately 10% of our crop nitrogen requirements.
  3. There are over 1,000 soil types in Manitoba. These various soil types behave very differently in nutrient level, release and retention.


Five Key Factors to Crop Nutrient Management

  • Apply only those nutrients that increase your net economic yield.
  • Apply recommended nutrient rates.
  • Apply nutrients at the optimum time.
  • Apply appropriate sources of fertilizer nutrients.
  • Apply nutrients using the most effective placement and practical application techniques.

Sampling to 6 inches is appropriate for immobile nutrients but crops send their roots much farther down to access mobile nutrients such as soluble nitrogen. To ensure you’re measuring all available soil nutrients, test your soil to 24 inches.

Other Publications

Manitoba’s Soil Fertility Guide provides detailed information on soil testing in Manitoba. The guide outlines typical nutrient requirements on Manitoba soils. Several fact sheets on soil fertility include:

  • Moisture and Target Yields
  • Nitrogen Dynamics
  • Retrieval Strategies for Deep-Leached Nitrates
  • Soil Sampling Strategies for Site-Specific Management
  • Fertility Management in Organic Crop Systems
  • Calculations of Manure Application Rates

Find the answers to your crop management challenges

Your local MAFRD GO Office staff, experienced crop advisor and soil test company reps are valuable sources of information. Based on crop and fertilizer prices, specific field history and appropriate soil test, they can help you determine the optimum level of fertilization to meet your goals.