In his 30 plus years at Brookside Labs, CEO Mark Flock has turned a lot of test tubes. As reported in the April issue of Ohio Farmer the company's soil and water testing business is booming causing them to build a new laboratory facility. Brookside's business has grown 25% a year for the last 5 years, Flock reports. The company did more than 260,000 tests last year.
You only have space for so much in a magazine article. So here are a few of the other things we talked about.
Being located in western Ohio has some advantages, Flock notes. Big projects are going on to prevent algal blooms in the Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys watersheds. USDA projects like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or special grants like the state of Ohio's joint Healthy Lake Erie Fund have pumped millions of dollars into improving water quality soil. Soil and water sampling are a required part of the deal and it's all happening in Brookside's backyard.
Flock says the farmers' increasing reliance on Certified Crop Advisers who use soil testing is adding business too. He notes that most of the consultants who use Brookside are also CCAs in their own states. Universities, municipalities, turn growers and golf courses all are gathering more samples. But the growing demand for resource testing is broader than that. There is the general concern with water quality over fracking and spent frack brine. More people are testing their own private water sources. It's a trend that is likely to grow as residents and municipalities realize the need to establish a baseline of samples to compare future samples against.
I asked Flock to name the five key mistakes farmers make with their soil sampling. He replied, "Off the top of my head:"
•Not having a trained professional consistently and properly taking samples. Brookside works through consultants.
•Not consistently sampling in the same season. Soil test results can vary by seasons.
•Not sampling at consistent depth. Top soil can vary a lot by soil types.
•Not sampling manageable zones. Break fields into areas that can be treated separately.
•Not annually reviewing soil test data along with yields and adjusting soil sample zones if needed. •Always fine tune sampling zones.
I also asked what impact the dry weather last year might have had on the soil.
"The impact of the dry summer is variable," he replied. "Those with lower yields would expect less loss of nutrients. Some just plowed the crop under which should recycle more nutrients. But some of those with poor yields or those who chopped all their corn for silage or removed straw etc. would have removed more nutrient than they typically do. Thus the need for assessing what is really there by testing is critical to really knowing what to expect. Dry weather usually affects pH and N the most."
I also found it interesting to note that the company's biggest single customer is a female consultant from South Africa. She sends them more than 20,000 samples a year – Fed Ex.