Soil testing is not just for farmers and home gardeners anymore. Recently, sportsmen have found good reason to use the service. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services now provides lime and fertilizer recommendations for several types of wildlife food plots, namely deer, turkey, upland game, waterfowl and fish ponds.

Three years ago, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division began field studies with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission to establish fertilization guidelines for wildlife food plots. Cost-effectiveness, improved habitat and environmentally safe application rates were major objectives. This collaboration led to the development of site-specific fertility recommendations based on soil test results and the type of wildlife being managed.

In 2004, the first year food plot recommendations were offered, the NCDA&CS soil lab received 676 samples from wildlife managers. Last year, 985 samples were received — a 46 percent increase. The Agronomic Division expects this trend to continue as more people become aware of the service.

NCDA&CS advises anyone interested in managing their farms or private property for wildlife to collect and submit soil samples. The best time to submit samples is now through September because analysis can be completed within five to 10 working days.

During fall and winter, the lab processes large numbers of agricultural samples, increasing the likelihood of delay.

For more information, call the Agronomic Division office in Raleigh at 1-919-733-2655, visit its Web site at www.ncagr.com/agronomi/ or contact any of its 13 regional agronomists.

Soil sampling procedures and a link to the Soil Sample Information sheet are available online at www.ncagr.com/agronomi/wildlife.htm.

Users need to remember to specify the appropriate crop code when filling out the Soil Sample Information sheet: 066 for deer/turkey, 067 for upland game, 068 for waterfowl or 069 for fish ponds.

Soil sample boxes and information sheets are also available at all county Cooperative Extension offices.