The assurance of your well spent time, effort and money toward food plots and deer herd management depends on taking the proper steps. One of the most overseen steps is proper soil testing and care.
According to Whitetail Institute the #3 reason food plots fail is, “No Soil Test is Taken.” This is third behind too many deer and number one, “The food plots don’t get put in.” A soil test should be taken every year to determine what your soil needs, fertilizer type to be applied for your type of plants, and the pH levels.
In Minnesota the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory will test your soil as a Farm/Field Horticulture test. It is $15.00/test. With this test they will give you fertilizer recommendations for up to three future crops based on analysis. The following link goes to their site: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/.
On this site you will find out how to submit your test, what the analysis means, what their testing methods are and their contact information. They also have a link to the frequently asked questions concerning soil testing. If you are interested in the different types of tests that they offer: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/tests/farm-commercial/ shows what tests they offer; Regular Series (phosphorus, potassium, pH and lime requirement, percent organic matter and estimated texture category), Micronutrient Series, Nitrate Nitrogen, Calcium and Magnesium, Sulfur, Boron, Soluble Salts, Organic Matter and Nutrient Management Phosphorus. If you click on each of these tests they break down how they test and what each means. It is very informative.
If you live in Itasca County, the Itasca County Soil and Water Conservation District will provide you with the proper soil testing kits. They are the local administrator of the U of M’s Soil Testing Program. Their kit will ship in a bubble pack envelope to the U of M. They also have the most current soil survey date for Itasca County available online via the USDA’s Web Soil Survey page. This may be a little extreme for deer food plots, but interesting to the major agriculture farmers. It provides soil data and information. Visit Itasca County Soil and Water Conservation District at: http://www.itascaswcd.org/. Click on the programs tab at the top and scroll down to the Soils link. Stop by their office on Hwy 2 East in Grand Rapids to pick up your soil testing kit! Also every spring they have a Native Plant Sale! Check them out!
Educating yourself with what you want to plant and what is required for that plot is equally as important and goes hand in hand with the soil test. In our northern climate, winter hardiness is critical for deer food plot plants. The injury to the plants that winter can create varies between varieties. Please make sure you are very thorough with your preparedness before starting to break ground for your plot. It will save you time, money and provide longer lasting enjoyment out of your plots and deer herd. Be sure to check out your state’s or county’s resources that are available! It can make food plots much easier and successful if you start with the proper soil and soil testing. Also, there are many sites online to research and educate yourself for free. Try to avoid places that sell products, just to make sure you are getting the proper information. I hope your food plot research is a joyous adventure, just as your food plot should be.
(I have contacted Whitetail Institute, U of M Soil Testing Laboratory and Itasca County Soil and Water Conservation District for approval of any use of their information. It was granted to be used on this article.)