Soil Testing Laboratory is Dedicated to Consistent Quality and Efficiency
In an effort to maximize yields and economic returns, soil testing has been a common practice in the agricultural community. Soil testing provides a baseline to understand the nutritional content and characteristics of the soil in order to predict fertility, productivity and growth potential. The results aid in proactive decision-making with regard to crop and hybrid selection, liming and amendment inputs, and even land management.
Ag Spectrum has utilized Midwest Laboratories in Omaha, Nebraska for more than 30 years based on their ability to effectively, consistently, and efficiently analyze soil tests and respond in a thorough and prompt manner.
“Since inception, Ag Spectrum has used Midwest Laboratories because they were one of the few laboratories who were dedicated to using the Bray and neutral ammonium acetate testing methods,” said Cliff Ramsier, Ag Spectrum co-owner and technical consultant. “Additionally, over the years we have come to appreciate the efficiencies that have resulted from their technological advancements and engineering their own testing systems.”
Bray vs. Mehlich Testing Methods
Ag Spectrum prefers the Bray methods for determining phosphorus levels and the Ammonium Acetate method for determining cations (Ca, Mg, K, etc.) and CEC. These methods have been proven over time and are still used by basic soil scientists around the world.
Phosphorus is measured by extracting it from a solution of hydrochloric acid and ammonium flouride, often referred to as Bray-1 extractant. The phosphorus level is determined by measuring the intensity of the blue color developed in the filtrate when treated with molybdenate-ascorbic acid reagent.
According to Iowa State University’s department of Integrated Crop Management, the Mehlich-3 test (M3) was developed in North Carolina for routine analyses of P, K, Ca, Mg, Na, and micronutrients. Until 1999, the M3 test was not recommended in the Midwest due to the lack of correlation and calibration research in the region. Although laboratories have adopted this alternative method and results appear to be similar, basic scientists across the country do not agree.
“Mehlich testing was initially designed for a very narrow description of soils (highly weathered soils located in the southeastern United States),” said Ramsier. “Mehlich testing is not accurate for determining CEC, which defeats much of the value of a soil test when intending to use it for application recommendations.”
“Thanks to the foresight of Midwest Laboratories’ leadership and Ag Spectrum’s ability to fully-integrate technology systems, we are able to offer test results nearly instantaneously,” said Robin Petersen, Vice President of Operations for Ag Spectrum. “This not only allows our dealers to access their customer’s data in timely manner, but also allows them to address any concerns before it’s too late.”
“Midwest Labs’ quick turn-around enables our customers to have timely application recommendations within a mere four days of Midwest receiving their samples,” said Petersen. “This is a key factor, especially late in the season when early frost and snow
often interrupt plans for applying timely nutrients.”
“The live tracking/reporting system allows staff at our office to track every order, identifying when Midwest has received the order. It also allows us to anticipate when we will receive final results,” said Petersen. “Based on the test results, Ag Spectrum Associates work with their customers to determine the best application recommendations to achieve their goals.”
Quality Testing is Top Priority
“Quality control is very important to Ag Spectrum and Midwest Laboratories,” said Petersen. To ensure accurate results, all testing methods have been designed to include a hidden check sample. In addition, every 41st sample is a known value which is constantly checked by the computer systems. The analytical results of the known samples must fall within tight limits or the samples must be re-analyzed.
Additionally, an Agronomist reviews all test results, with the assistance of a computer system which uses formulas and logic to highlight any outlying samples for further investigation or re-analysis. In the event that results are questioned, samples will be re-analyzed to validate the original findings.
There are areas in the United States that have strict soil handling requirements. Some Southern states have regulated soils which may contain fire ants or other pathogenic organisms. Midwest Laboratories has an official USDA permit to receive most soils from all 50 states and has standard operating procedures in place to handle regulated soils.
What to do with all that dirt?
Midwest Laboratories processes well over one million samples every year, so it’s not to wonder what they do with all of that dirt! Midwest prides itself in offering a green system, and for the past 14 years, the company has partnered with local landfills to provide the soil as a cover for filled landfill areas. Trucks haul the dirt to nearby landfills weekly, totaling nearly 1,400 tons of dirt every year. Don’t worry though, special procedures are followed to dispose of contaminated samples.
As Midwest Labs’ management prepares for the future, their focus is on advancements that will improve the general understanding of soil heath. Midwest Laboratories is at the cutting edge of developing an effective, yet efficient soil health testing program that offers further guidance for effective decision-making in the agriculture community.
About Midwest Laboratories
In 1975, experienced soil and chemical professionals, Kennard Pohlman and John Torpy, set out to offer accurate and efficient testing methods that would provide agricultural clients with timely, accurate and defensible data necessary for effective decision making. Additionally, John DeBoer, with an expertise in systems technology, joined the management team early on and was pivotal in positioning the company to achieve technological efficiencies.
Significant growth over the years has enabled Midwest Labs to expand the breadth and quality of service offerings to include soil, plant tissue, water, pet food, feed, fertilizer and food analysis. Today, the ten-building campus located in Omaha, Nebraska, houses more than 100,000 square feet of laboratory, office and support space. Each lab maintains its own staff and instruments to support the departmental needs. More than 140 employees provide service to more than 14,000 active accounts.