Soil Testing

Soils are the foundation on which our agricultural cropping systems are built. They provide physical structure for roots, store and provide access to water and air. They act as a bank for nutrients to be held and released. They support an ecosystem of organisms that can capture nitrogen, store carbon and cycle nutrients.

Soil testing methods offer meaningful measures which can be used for making good management decisions; increasing productivity, making more efficient use of inputs and reducing environmental pollution. It is unlikely that the best fertility decisions will be made without regular soil testing. By way of analogy, cropping without testing your soil is similar to navigating without a map. You need to know where you are before you can orient yourself towards where you want to be.

The NSDA Analytical Lab offers soil testing services. Registered farms receive a 50% discount on the price per sample. The standard field soil test measures plant available nutrient levels, organic matter, pH and lime requirement. Reports also offer basic fertilizer recommendations for specific crops. The lab has modified its sample receiving protocols as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic so be sure to get the most up to date information from the lab (902) 893-7444 prior to submitting your samples (link below).

Nova Scotia has naturally acidic soils and high levels of precipitation. As a result, nutrients (e.g. calcium) are continually being leached from our soils. We need to regularly replenish nutrients and increase pH to maintain fertility. The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture delivers the Limestone Trucking Assistance Program to help offset the cost of transporting limestone to your farm (link below). A recent soil analysis report or a current Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) are required to access the program.

NSFA members voted at the 2019 AGM on a Standing Policy that prioritizes lobbying for supports to ensure healthy soils across Nova Scotia. In addition to this, a resolution giving the Federation a mandate to lobby specifically for increased support for soil health testing in the province. These are both signals that farmers are increasingly aware of the importance of improving the health of the soil to increase productivity and resilience.

A healthy soil has a balance of good chemical, physical and biological properties that, together, contribute to an ideal environment for healthy plant growth. The PEI Analytical Lab now offers a soil health package as a part of their soil testing offerings (link below). The methods used expand on the traditional soil tests to include measures such as soil texture (sand, silt, clay content), total carbon and nitrogen, wet aggregate stability (the resilience of the soil structure to damage e.g. through cultivation or rainfall), microbial activity (the overall biological activity in the soil measured by how much carbon dioxide is produced), active carbon (the fraction of organic matter that is readily available for decomposition and nutrient release), biological nitrogen supply (this test developed by Dr. Burton’s lab at Dal AC is a measure of the ability of a soil to supply nitrogen from decomposing organic matter in the soil). These soil health measures can give an indication of the overall health of your soils and if tracked regularly can show the impact your management practices are having on soil health over time.

Soil testing should be done at least once every three years or more often in high value crops or on fields with excessive nutrients. Your soil test is only as good as the sample that is taken. It is important to take representative samples, mix them well and follow instructions from the lab to ensure accurate repeatable results.