For most routine soil testing, samples should be collected to plow depth, even in no-till or permanent sods.

Inconsistent sampling depth is one of the biggest sources of errors in soil sampling. This is especially true in no-till and reduced-tillage systems where there is often significant stratification of nutrients in the soil.

Special note in no-till:

In no-till fields an acid layer, called an acid roof, can develop right at the surface of the soil. This thin acid layer can have a significant impact on the crop, but it can be missed in a normal plow depth sample.

If the normal plow depth soil sample in no-till recommends liming, apply the lime as recommended and no further testing is needed.

If the normal sample does not recommend lime and the field has been in long-term no-till and has not been limed recently, take a 2-inch deep sample and test it for pH.

This sample can be submitted to a soil testing lab or you can use a field pH test kit for this purpose.

If this sample has a pH less than 6.2, then apply one ton of limestone even if the regular sample did not call for any limestone.

Avoid atypical areas or sample them separately


Sample between the rows and avoid any fertilizer bands as much as possible. Also, many fields have known atypical areas such as dead furrows, old fence rows, lime or manure stacking areas, wet spots, etc.

If the areas are too small to manage separately, do not sample them. Taking one or two cores from these odd areas just contaminates the sample for the rest of the field.

If the areas are large enough that you are able and willing to manage them separately, then take a separate sample from these areas.

Handle the sample carefully


Collect the soil cores in a clean bucket so as not to contaminate it, crumble the sample cores and air dry the sample. Mix the cores thoroughly and take a subsample to fill the mailer to send to the lab.

Fill out the soil test information sheet

Additional information such as the crop, the expected yield, the crop rotation, tillage depth, etc., are used along with the soil test results to make the recommendation. Thus, it is critical that the soil test information sheet be filled out completely and accurately.