Why Soil Testing is Important


To Test Or Not To Test

Article by Wayne Batten

If your car or boat has set around without being operated since last fall, would you get into either one and set out on a 90-day trip?  I don’t think you would.  Are you planting crops, gardens or other plants in the coming days?  Have you tested your soil?  If not, there is not much difference in planting your crops without a soil test and beginning that 90-day trip without checking your equipment.

I know by now you may be saying, “You Extension people are always harping about soil testing” and you would be correct.  Soil testing is that important.  How many of you are guilty of adding some fertilizer and or some lime and expecting the plants to grow?  Maybe they will grow as expected, maybe they will not.  A simple soil test can prevent many problems seen each year by Extension Agents and others.

How do I need to pull soil samples?  Begin by drawing a map of your farm, home lawn, garden or whatever areas you will be sampling.  Look over the terrain.  Do you notice any obvious changes in soil color, texture, any changes in weeds growing there now?  If so, you may need to make each of these “different” areas a new sample.  Be sure to label the map you have drawn with names, numbers or some means to be able to distinguish where each sample came from when you get the results in a few days.

Now you are ready to begin pulling soil samples.  You will need a soil probe or a shovel, a plastic bucket, soil sample boxes and a pencil.  If your soil probe or shovel is rusty, clean it first.  Never use a galvanized bucket for collecting samples.  If you do so, many of the micronutrient results will be incorrect.  From each area you plan to sample, dig down about 4 to 6 inches and collect some of the soil from throughout the area. Pull a sample like this from at least 10 places for each different area on your map.  Mix the subsamples well in the plastic bucket and pour the mixed soil into the soil sample box.  Be sure to label the box with the appropriate name or number so you will know where that sample came from when you get the results back.  Soil sample boxes are available at your local Cooperative Extension Center and at many farm and garden centers.  You can mail your samples to the lab in Raleigh or bring them to most Extension Centers and we will send them off for you.

By now, you may be saying to yourself, this sounds like too much work, I will just apply some lime and fertilizer and let it grow.  Would you add oil to that engine before beginning a trip without checking the level on the dipstick first?  I don’t think so.  Adding lime and fertilizer without a soil test is the same thing.  Many people think you cannot add too much lime to soil.  That is very wrong.  Micronutrient deficiencies are very common in many areas of North Carolina, especially on sandy soils in the southeast.  Too little lime results in a low pH whereas too much lime may lead to a very high pH.  Different crops have different pH requirements.  When soil pH levels get out of the desirable range, nutrients like iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc become less available to plants for uptake.  Often the symptoms exhibited by the crop may look similar with a pH that is too high or one that is too low.

By soil sampling, you can potentially save money that might otherwise be spent on unneeded lime and fertilizer.  Many of the soils in Sampson County have had routine phosphorus applications for many years.  Phosphorus does not leach out of the soil very quickly and many soils now have adequate levels in storage.  Most tobacco farmers have found they are able to save a lot of money by applying fertilizers without phosphorus.  You only know if you have adequate phosphorus levels by soil sampling.

Article courtesy of North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension

Link Photo courtesy of NRCS Soil Health


For more information about soil check out Susan Penstone’s excellent article The Real Dirt on Soil.

What’s your view on soil testing?

Making a Living on a Small Farm

Article by John Ikerd

In times past, forty acres, a mule, and a lot of hard work were all that it took to make a living on a farm. But those times are gone. A family could live well on a lot less money in those times, but hard work also was worth a lot more back then – regardless of whether it was done by a mule or by a man. The conventional wisdom was that anyone who was willing to work hard enough could make it on the farm. During the financial crisis of the 1980s, many farmers virtually “worked themselves to death” trying to save their farm. If they could just work hard enough, they could make it. But, they couldn’t  – they went broke.

Work simply isn’t worth as much as it once was – at least not on the farm.  Tractors took the place of horses and mules.  Other machinery and equipment took most of the work out of most jobs around the farm.   Physical labor isn’t worth any more than the cost of using a machine to do the same job – maybe even less because machines are less bothersome to fix or replace and far easier to manage than are humans.

Mechanization made farming easier.  Farmers became machine operators rather than laborers.  But a mechanized farmer could farm a lot more land or raise a lot more livestock than could a farmer doing everything by hand.  And farmers still had to expect to put in full-time on the job if they expected to make a full-time living.  So a full-time mechanized farmer had to have a lot more land and a lot more capital tied up in machinery and equipment just to make a living.  With mechanization, farms became larger and it became more difficult to make a living on a small farm.

Agricultural chemicals also made farming easier, taking some additional labor out of farming, but mostly, making a farm far easier to manage.  A farmer didn’t need to know nearly as much about maintaining the natural fertility of the soil  – they could take a soil test and apply the right fertilizers.  They could specialize in crops or livestock – they didn’t need manure to go back onto the fields to maintain fertility.  Farmers didn’t need to know how to till the fields to control weeds – they could spray with herbicides.  They didn’t need to understand how to use crop rotations to control weeds, insects and other pest – they could use commercial pesticides.  Livestock farmers didn’t need to know how to keep their animals healthy and growing, they had antibiotics and hormones to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.  Farmers now could farm by recipe.  As farms became easier to manage, each farmer was able to farm more land or raise more livestock.  However, a farmer still had to expect to put in full time on the job to earn a full time living.  So with increasing use of agricultural chemicals, farms grew still larger, and it became still more difficult to make a living on a small farm.

In economic terms, there are only four basic factors of production, or four basic ingredients in any production process – land, labor, capital, and management.  Over time, machines, agri-chemicals, and other technologies have resulted in substitution of capital and land for labor and management.  Consequently, a typical full-time farm today requires far more land and capital today than fifty years ago.  It takes far more money to buy and operate a farm today because of high land and equipment costs and expenses for fertilizers, pesticides and other commercial inputs.  But, in a typical farm today, labor and management are far less important than fifty years ago.  If a farmer has enough land and enough money to buy the latest equipment and technology, they don’t have to work much or even think much – except about how to manage their money.

In economic terms, each of the four factors earns something in return for its contribution to productivity.  Land earns rent, labor earns wages, capital earns interest, and management earns a salary.  Profit or loss is the reward or penalty for taking the risk associated with investing land, labor, capital, and management in an enterprise without knowing whether the net results will be positive or negative.  Profit is the reward for taking the risk of farming rather than renting the land, putting the money in an insured CD, and working for someone else. In general, each factor of production earns a return in relation to its contribution to the production process.

As the nature of farming has changed, the returns to land and capital have grown and the returns to labor and management have declined.  It isn’t necessary to quote statistics; it’s just plain common sense.   Returns to labor and management are returns to the farmer – to the human investment in a farming operation.  The land and capital can be owned by anyone – increasingly by someone other than the farmer.  Actual farming is about working and thinking – labor and management.  And in general, the return to farming can be no more than proportional to the working and thinking done by the farmer.  If there isn’t much working and thinking going into producing a crop or a batch of livestock, there isn’t going to be much in it for the farmer – and it will be tough to make a living without a lot more land and capital. Farmers who don’t do much working or thinking simply can’t expect to make a living on a small farm.

The ultimate low-return agriculture is contract production.   Farmers are being told that the only way they can remain competitive in agriculture is by signing a comprehensive production contract with one of the giant agribusiness corporations.  But, farmers need to stop and think – who can logically expect to benefit from contract production?  Under most contracts, the corporation arranges for capital – mostly loans to be repaid by the grower. The corporation provides all of the technology – genetics, equipment, feed, health care, etc.  And the corporation provides virtually all of the management – the grower’s mainly do what they are told to do.  The grower provides the labor, but the highly mechanized operations require little labor.  Contract livestock or poultry operations require little land, although the grower is expected to find some place to dispose of manure.  In summary, the grower provides a small amount of equity capital, a small amount of land, and some low-skilled labor.  The corporation provides everything else. The grower gets a fixed amount per animal produced, regardless of costs or price, so the contractor even takes most of the risk.  So who is going to benefit from a corporate contract operation?  Certainly not the grower – the grower doesn’t do anything that would justify making a living in such an operation.

So what does all this say about making a living on a small farms?  It says small farmers have to put a lot more of themselves into their operations – a lot more management and labor – than do most farmers today.  It says a farmer can’t expect to make a decent living if someone else makes all of the important decisions and they only contribute some low-skilled labor.   It says that farmers must rely on management and labor far more and rely on land and capital far less if they expect to make a living on a small farm.  It says that the way to turn a small farm into a full-time farming operation is to find ways to substitute management and labor for land and capital.

There is a limit to how hard anyone can work or, more important, would want to work on a farm.  Working harder is still not the secret to making a living on the farm – even though most of us would be better off if we did a bit more physical labor and a bit less sitting.  However, thinking is potentially far more productive and is far less limiting than is working. So the key to making a living on a small farm is more intensive management mixed with an appropriate amount of skilled labor.  A small farmer has less land and capital so they have to do more thinking and decision making per acre or dollar invested – and they have to be willing to work when working is the logical thing to do.  They have to put more of themselves into it if they expect to get more for themselves out of it.  The successful farmer of the future might quite accurately be labeled a thinking worker or a working thinker – the key is to do both together, simultaneously, in harmony.

It takes more thinking to work with nature to reduce costs of inputs and increase profits while taking care of the land  – more eyes per acre as Wes Jackson says.  It takes more thinking to find and keep customers who want, and are willing to pay for, the things a small farmer can produce in harmony with nature – relationship marketing as Joel Salatin calls it.  It takes more thinking to fit your unique talents and skills as a farmer to the needs of your land, to your particular customers and your community – linking people, purpose, and place.  Literally thousands of these thinking workers are on small farms today all across the land – putting more of themselves into their operations and are getting more for themselves in return.  Each is doing something different, but one by one they are finding ways to make a good living on a small farm.

Link Photo by Robert Moore


Take a peek at some of the Farm Masters content with this awesome video with Fred Mertz about a new way of farming.

Do you live on a small farm? Share your story!



Homesteading Tips

Alderman Farms is a small homestead focused on self-sufficiency and thriftiness. Located in Brookhaven, Mississippi their desire is to promote good old-fashioned methods of small farming, using traditional American skills and “know how”.

Their values are evident on their website, blog and social media where they share their homesteading tips, and everyday farm life with us. On their different online media you can follow along as they investigate inspirational techniques such as Back to Eden Gardening, creating a sustainable permaculture, raising critters humanely with loving care, and preserving the heritage of homesteading for future generations.

Below are just 2 of the great videos they have created to share their experience and knowledge with others. Check them out, because who hasn’t needed to stretch a fence at one time or another with only the pliers in your back pocket?

Happy Homesteading!

How to tighten fence with nothing but pliers

How to set a corner post without concrete


For more homesteading tips check outDIY Powdered Laundry Soap andDIY Wood Pallet Shelf

Do you have any homesteading tips?

Farmer’s Log

What is a day in the life of a young farmer really like?

We Love Farmers

Farming is more than a job. It’s a way of life. At we seriously love farmers. So if you’re a farmer, or you know a farmer, share the love.

When you think about farmers and the work that they do, you may wonder, are they crazy? But farming is more than a job, it’s a way a life. It’s a labour of love that tugs at our being. Many of us were born to this calling with deeply planted rural roots, while other they must be adventure seekers. Because le’ts be honest, who would willingly trust their fate to mother-nature?

Risk is what sets us apart and we’ve seen the reward. We spend time cultivating a bounty fit to feed the world because this is our land and we were stewards of it long before being green was a cause. We rise with the sun, even though it inevitably beats us to bed, and we know we’re better people for it. But we play like champs, all the while knowing morning comes fast and we’ll get up and do it all over again. And even though we understand the hardships, we can’t imagine our lives any different.

Farming is freedom.

It’s life. I guess when you think about it, yeah it is crazy, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


DIY: Mineral Feeder for Cattle

Everyone who owns cattle needs a functional mineral feeder.

This 10-minute video clip shows you how to make a DIY cattle mineral feeder from a barrel and truck tire. It is portable, it keeps the mineral dry, and it is inexpensive to make.

DIY: “Flock Block”

Here’s a recipe to make your very own “Flock Block“…

2 Cups scratch grains (a commercial or homemade mix of cracked corn, oats, barley & other mixed grains)
1 Cup layer feed
1 Cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 Cup sunflower seeds (I happened to have unshelled sunflower seed/safflower seed mix so I used that)
1/4 Cup wheat germ
1/4 Cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 eggs
1/2 Cup Blackstrap molasses
1/2 Cup coconut oil, liquefied

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Pat into several small baking dishes or casseroles, so your blocks are approximately 2″ thick. I used four 6” round cake pans, and would probably only use three the next time to make slightly thicker blocks. (Optional, use a chopstick & make a hole in each block so you can hang them in the run.)

Bake for 30 minutes, then cool completely. Run a knife around the inside rims of each pan and invert to remove the block. Serve to a flock of very happy girls.

Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen and then defrosted as needed.

Originally posted on:Sunshine Acres: The Home of Perfection Poultry and Wild N Woolly Rabbitry

Link Photo courtesy of Tc Morgan

Connecting with Millennials about Food and Farming

Food videos are hot on YouTube right now. Research from Google, Millward Brown Digital and Firefly indicate that millennials are tuning into videos about food, creating a whopping 280% growth in food channel subscriptions over the past year.


How Farmers can Engage the YouTube Foodie Audience

Farmers can and should use the interest in YouTube food videos to their advantage. With consumers turning to online sources to find out about food, it is essential for farmers to ensure they are posting content and educating people about farming in the online realm. Sure, it is great to be able to talk to people face to face about the food you grow but the reality is that people are spending a significant portion of their time online, so it is important that you are interacting with them in the digital space where they hang out. Knowing that millennials are spending such a huge amount of time on YouTube learning about food, it makes sense for farmers to make YouTube videos about food and farming. Maybe you could make a video about the process it takes to get beef from the farm to a burger. Or, you could just create a video talking about why you love being a farmer and growing food for people.

Here’s a great example of a farmer providing smart consumer education about agriculture on YouTube. Watch Matt Muller‘s farm video below:



Link photo courtesy of Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ


The Farm Virgin Ep.1 Western Where?

Introducing Ben Wilson, a graduate of Aerospace Engineering and a definite virgin to farming.

Watch Ben as he says goodbye to clean and corporate, and prepares for his adventures into the world of farming by taking off his tie and trying on some western apparel.

The Farm Virgin – Episode 1: Western Where?


Strengthening Rural Communities with Green Hectares

Today at FarmOn we talked with Lesley Pohl of Red Deer, AB who is a Community Connector working with Green Hectares.

A non-profit organization established in 2008, Green Hectares is a leader in bringing sustainability to the agriculture community, and fostering dynamic rural communities. Founded by a group of young leaders who are passionate about agriculture, Green Hectares works to create an environment where anyone with an interest in agriculture and food can thrive & prosper, no matter where they live. At Green Hectares we help develop opportunities for people to connect, collaborate & learn so they can be a thriving part of the agriculture industry, or a contributing force in their community.


Jen: Hi Lesley, thanks for taking the time to chat with us.Currently we know you are working in rural communities, but I am wondering what your background is as it relates to rural living or agriculture?

Lesley: Hi Jen, thanks very much for inviting me! I grew up & was actively involved with the herd health at our family feedlot located outside of Ponoka; as far back as I can remember I was riding barrel & cow horses & checking calves! I was actively involved in processing every fall from running the hydraulic squeeze to tagging, vaccinating, castrating & de-horning. I’ve been training horses since I was about 12 years old, primarily focusing on horses with specific emotional problems; for example a barrel horse that refuses to go up an alley into an arena; I got involved in Natural Horsemanship in 2003 & enjoy working with clinicians & learning new techniques & tips! This winter I started participating in cowboy challenge obstacle courses & my dad has jumped right on board & has an obstacle course set up at the feedlot!

Jen: Your role at Green Hectares is defined as a “Community Connector”, can you tell us a bit more about this role?

Lesley: Our motto is “Where people & opportunity meet” The Green Hectares Community Connector develops & taps into a network of existing educational programs, training & business services & brings them to people living in rural communities. Delivered online & in-person, I provide timely & easy access to programs & services for entrepreneurs, farmers & producers, families & community members. I am to ensure that people do not have to travel very far to get the resources, support & training they want.


Jen: Obviously you are spending a lot of time in rural communities. What challenges do you see in these communities?

Lesley: I guess specifically more in the remote communities distance is a great challenge; the personalized support provided in urban areas isn’t available in remote rural areas. This is why The Community Connector Programming is so amazing because we provide personalized support for entrepreneurs, small business owners, farmers & producers, families, young people & other rural community members.

Green Hectares takes training to the people regardless of location. We believe people should be able to learn in their own community & not have to travel far to get the support & information they need. Our services & support will be provided in community halls & meeting venues in every community, both big & small. The Connector ensures that people do not have to travel very far to get the resources, support & training they need.


Jen: What do you think the future looks like for our rural communities?

Lesley: Oh I think with all the great programs such as FarmOn & Green Hectares to name a couple, the future is bright, innovative & creative. The SKY is the limit!

Jen: Any thoughts on how we might best support these communities?

Lesley: I think organizations such as ours are supporting them in the most dynamic & creative ways. Green Hectares creates opportunities for people to connect, collaborate & learn so they can be a thriving part of the agriculture industry, or a contributing force in their community. It is our aim to support & build vibrant & sustainable communities in any way we can.

Jen: Again, thank you for chatting with us today Lesley. Can you tell us what events you will be attending or where people can meet you in the coming months?

Lesley: I’ll have a booth set up during the FCA Rodeo Finals Oct 5,6,7 in Red Deer at the Westerner Grounds; Also our booth will be set up at the Creating Rural Connections Conference at Olds College on October 11, 12 & 13th. Later on in October I’ll be attending the Agri-trade show in Red Deer as well as numerous community functions around the province! The common joke is that I am a gypsy so it’s best to email me or give me a quick call to find out what corner of the province I might be in!

There is no doubt that with individuals such as Lesley & the Green Hectares Organization, the future of our rural communities will be in good hands. If you wish to connect with Lesley or find out more about the Green Hectares programs please visit the Green Hectares website or contact Lesley at: