With budget plans in place and a healthy batch of transplants ready for the field, it’s time to get outside and start working your land.
The best-case scenario is for growers to have access to the field several years in advance of planting. This gives you time for observation and recording of soil properties and any problems the field experiences with drainage or weeds. Experience with the same field also provides you with an accurate idea of what diseases and insects to look out for.
Your field’s rotation requirements and soil characteristics are also factors to consider when preparing for planting.
The skinny on soil
“Testing your soil is essential,” says University of Georgia professor and Extension agronomist J. Michael Moore. The Georgia Tobacco Grower’s Guide advises that, if you have different types of soil in your field, you should sample them separately.
The samples will determine pH levels and the levels of most nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Each sample should represent no more than 10 to 15 acres and should contain soil from 15 to 20 different cores. The samples should weigh 1 to 2 pounds, taken from a depth of at least 6 inches. It may sound like a lot, but consider that these samples must accurately represent 20 million to 30 million pounds of soil.
Also, don’t put your sampling regimen off. Vann recommends getting your samples in to the lab early. It can take a few weeks to get results back as other farmers are testing their soils as well.
In addition, Vann says one simple rule is key: Follow the soil report. The soil report will indicate any nutrient deficiencies, and if you get the sample in early enough, you will have time for the proper application of lime if your soil’s pH level is off.
Contact your local Extension office for more tips on soil sampling, how to get soils tested by your state’s labs and how to interpret the results. Nutrient applications to correct fertility problems may vary by testing method, so be sure to ask for help as needed if the results aren’t clear.
Acids or bases? Measuring pH
Knowing the pH of your soil is important as it determines the absorption of nutrients that allow plants to grow, thrive and fight disease. According to the NCSU Flue-Cured Tobacco Guide, the ideal pH is 5.8 to 6.0.
The soil test will let you know if the pH needs to be adjusted with the use of lime. Growers should apply limestone in the fall and thoroughly mix it with the soil, one or two years ahead of the crop if possible. North Carolina tobacco experts say that finely ground limestone may be broadcast and disked in before transplanting, but that fall applications are generally more effective.
The benefits of applying limestone to create an ideal pH level in your field are well worth the effort. Soil with adequate pH levels has been proven to foster plants with healthy root systems and higher drought tolerance and nutrient absorption.
If a field does not start with proper pH levels, it cannot be improved with nitrogen enrichment, according to research results reported in the NCSU guide. Tests indicate that plots that have received a lime application when needed produce higher yields regardless of nitrogen rates.
Consult your state’s production guides for thorough fertilization information and recommendations.