By: Ezinne Echem Okorie
In Nigeria today it is a common practice to see farmers and most newbies into farming planting crops on farm lands without proper soil analysis on the assumption that the proposed crops to be cultivated generally do well in the area under consideration, leaving out the all important need for soil analysis and testing.
Also, in Nigeria today, it is common for a farmer to simply buy a couple of bags of NPK fertilizer, and proceed to apply the fertilizer to his crops without regards to the actual need of the crops in question; or the ability of the soil to supply these nutrients.This practice may not be entirely incorrect since farmers can roughly estimate the amount of fertilizer their crops require using the blanket fertilizer recommendation. Nevertheless, it is a practice that is vastly inaccurate and may not even be cost-efficient considering that fertilizer recommendation changes with location as a result of soil variability.
And if any farmer argues that the fertilizer recommendation he uses is location-specific, it will then surprise you to know that the soil surveys that gave birth to those blanket recommendations were done on a large scale covering a whole region or even a whole agroecological zone. Although these surveys provide a general idea of the soils in a region or agroecological zone, it may not in essence represent the soil condition on your own field. An even greater reason to be skeptical is how long ago this fertilizer recommendation was prepared.
The fertilizer recommendation that was prepared about 10-20 years ago should not be the same in use today, since the soil does not maintain the same fertility status over time. Several changes can happen to the soil over that period of time – continuous cultivation may facilitate the removal of nutrients; irrigation may encourage leaching of mobile nutrients and accumulation of salts as the case may be; use of machinery may compact the soil; and cropping system (e.g. rice paddies) can utterly change the characteristics of the soil.
These changes should be met with a suitable recommendation, especially one that must encourage the sustainability of the soil we all depend on and the environment as a whole.
A more accurate, sustainable and cost-efficient way to meet the soil requirement for your crops is therefore through regular soil testing.
Soil test provides a valuable piece of information on the makeup of your soil, and allows you to make reliable and productive agricultural investment decision. It is only through soil testing that a farmer can determine the nutrient content of the soil, and with this information he is sure to apply the exact type and quantity of fertilizer to meet the requirements of his crops while taking into consideration the nutrients already present in the soil. This means that farmers can minimize fertilizer expenditure, over-fertilization which can pollute the environment, as well as obtain maximum crop yield.
Soil testing does not only determine nutrient content, it also exposes other conditions that may affectproductivity. Soil pH for instance determines which nutrient will be available for plant use irrespective of whether all the nutrients are present in the soil; Cation Exchange Capacity influences decisions on timing of fertilizer application and even pesticide application; and soil water holding capacity determines the timing and quantity of water application under irrigation agriculture. Most importantly, soil testing can help provide recommendation on how best to improve these soil conditions.
It is now obvious why farmers in Nigeria do not meet up the maximum yield of most crops cultivated. What is also obvious is that reckless application of fertilizer has led to unnecessary waste (which unfortunately devastates the environment). However, it is not too late to begin to do the right thing; and the starting point is soil testing.
Have you just acquired a land and excited for the upcoming farming season? Ready and rearing to go? The first and right thing to do is to know what your soil is and what is made up of. Get on and have that soil tested!
Ezinne Okorie is the Head, Soil Development Unit at Agro News Nigeria.
Have you just acquired a land for crop development? Preparing to plant this coming planting season; At Agro News Nigeria, we offer top quality soil analysis, soil survey and soil testing nation wide.
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