The drought took a lot of starch out of farmer sin 2012. But less-than-average yields may have left more for next year - fertility-wise.
"It's a tricky situation when farmers didn't make as good of a crop as they normally would, and they think they've still got a lot of nutrients in the soil," says Joe Jenkins, a soil fertility consultant based in Mason Hall, Tenn.
In a year like 2012, where drought may have limited production, theoretically that may be the case. The only way to know is to soil test.
Jenkins and his wife Dianne, base recommendations on tests taken yearly. With the price of seed tied to technology and the fluctuating price of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, Jenkins believes that building up the soil leads to better yields and increased profits.
The key is to find a balance between essential nutrients and micronutrients.
After taking samples, Terry Owens, who works with Jenkins, air-dries and then grinds individual soil samples and ships them to Brookside Laboratories in Ohio for analytical services.
Jenkins looks at the analysis with the eye of a mathematician.
"You can't just look at a number on a soil test and think it's low or high, because you have to understand that different labs use different extraction methods, giving you different numbers," Jenkins says. And added scrutiny is important this drought-plagued year.
Soil fertility is a journey, not a destination. The journey is to build up the soil in order to feed plants and then replenish the soil again. In tests he's analyzed so far this fall, he notes that growers may be able to save money on fertility bills next year. In some cases, the crop didn't take nutrients out of the soil during the drought. He's also noticed a need for lime in some cases.
"Fertilizer is high, but in relation to what you get when it's applied according to the recommendations and analysis of a soil test, it's cheap," Jenkins says.