Interpreting the Results
Part 1, Section 2: Soil Fertility Management
Soil Fertility Management
Interpreting the results
The results of the laboratory analysis are meaningless by themselves; they must be interpreted by relating the lab values to known crop responses under local conditions. The relationship between the soil test level and crop yield can be represented as a response curve such as the one illustrated in Figure 1.2-5. As soil test levels increase from very low levels, the yield will increase until it reaches a “yield plateau”—the point above which yield no longer increases as the soil test level increases. The optimum soil test level lies just above that point. Eventually, if soil test levels continue to increase, yield reduction may occur in some instances. Once the response curve has been determined by field research in the area where the soil test will be used, the interpretation levels for the soil test (i.e., below optimum, optimum, above optimum) can be established as shown in this figure. Unfortunately, there is no standard terminology for these soil testing categories. Be sure to determine the exact meaning of the interpretation terms used on your soil test. The interpretation, based on crop response research, is given as a bar chart on the Penn State soil test report that indicates whether the level for each nutrient is below optimum, optimum, or above optimum for the crop to be grown (Figure 1.2-3). The definition for each category on the Penn State soil test report is given below. The terms used on the Penn State soil test report are given first in bold and alternative terms sometimes used by other labs are given in parenthesis for each category.
Below Optimum (Very low, Low, Medium) soil test level indicates that the nutrient is probably deficient and that the deficiency will likely limit crop growth. There is a high probability of a profitable return from correcting a low level. The recommendation for a below-optimum-testing soil is designed to gradually build up the nutrient level to optimum and to maintain it at that level.
Optimum (High, Medium, Sufficient, Adequate) soil test level indicates that the nutrient is probably adequate and will likely not limit crop growth in a typical growing season. There is a low probability of a profitable return from adding nutrients to increase the soil test level above optimum. The recommendation for an optimum-testing soil is designed to offset crop removal in order to maintain the nutrient in the optimum range. If you are soil testing on an annual basis, no maintenance nutrient applications are needed when the soil tests in the optimum range. The optimum soil test ranges for pH, P, K, and Mg used for agronomic crops in Pennsylvania are given in (Table 1.2-3).
|Soil test||Optimum Range||Comments|
|Phosphorus (P)||30–50 ppm||All agronomic crops.|
|pH||6.0–7.0||A pH of 6.0–6.5 is considered adequate for most agronomic crops; however, 6.5–7.0 is recommended for alfalfa and barley.|
|Magnesium (Mg)||120–180 ppm
|Grass forage crops
Other agronomic crops
|Potassium (K)||100–150 ppm
Above Optimum (High, Very High, Excessive) soil test level indicates that the nutrient is more than adequate and will not limit crop growth. There is a very low probability of a profitable return from applying a nutrient to a soil testing above optimum. Consequently, no nutrient applications are recommended on a these soils. Too much of a plant nutrient may cause a nutrient imbalance in the soil and, as a result, in the plant. Additional broadcast applications of fertilizers, manure, or other nutrient sources to soils that are very high not only result in unsatisfactory economic returns, but also they can adversely affect plant growth, animal health, and environmental quality.