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Why soil testing matters and how Ag Leader can help

by Oct 12, 2023Blog, SMS™ Software, Value of Data

As harvest wraps up, it’s time to start thinking about post-harvest activities like soil sampling. This important practice not only determines soil nutrient levels but can also help you make critical management decisions for next year’s crop.

“In February 1952, there was an article in Successful Farming magazine that talked about the importance of soil sampling,” says Chris Nelson, Accounts Development Lead, SoilView. “We’ve been talking about this practice for a long time, which, to me, shows how valuable a soil sample is in crop production.”

Today, the practice is more significant than ever, because it measures a broad scope of chemical, biological, and physical soil characteristics, giving farmers greater insight on the health of their soils and crop systems. A critical element testing can reveal is the amount of soil microbial activity. These microscopic organisms perform several complex functions that are essential to crop productivity including breaking down crop residue, cycling nutrients through the soil, enhancing water and nutrient uptake, and stimulating plant growth.

“There’s a lot riding on a soil sample today, so you need to ensure you’re collecting a quality core,” Nelson says. “Accurate soil data is critical for making informed agronomic decisions and deploying technology effectively.”

Soil sampling is either done in the fall after harvest or in the spring before field work starts. Whichever time of year you decide to take samples, experts agree it should always be done prior to applying fertilizer. They also say samples should be taken every two to four years.

Nelson says there has also been a great deal of discussion about how many cores should be taken in a field. “There is a huge difference between four cores and 10 cores and very little difference between 10 cores and 45 cores,” he says. “The sweet spot seems to be 12 cores.”

How Ag Leader can help

Soil sampling can be a time-intensive task, but with Ag Leader’s SMS Desktop software we make it easy to set up the soil sampling sites, whether you sample by points, grids, or zones. Using the desktop software allows you to base the placement of your sampling sites on historical data such as yield maps, management zones, or even previous sampling locations. Learn how easy it is to create your sampling sites in this video.


With SMS Mobile software, you can easily navigate to your sites while in the field for faster and more accurate sampling. Another benefit to the mobile software is being able to load a background map while sampling, such as variety maps, yield maps, or historic application maps. Review how to sample with SMS Mobile before heading to the field in this video.




Once the samples have been taken and the results returned from the lab, you can link those results back to the sampling sites to create variable rate recommendations. There are several ways to generate prescriptions using the SMS Desktop Software and AgFiniti. SMS Basic users can generate prescriptions with the easy-to-use Prescription Editor.


SMS Advanced users can build their own customized equations that not only generate multiple outputs at once but also can be run across multiple fields at the same time.


Ag Leader customers can also generate fertilizer recommendations using the prescriptions available in AgFiniti. After exporting your soil sampling data from the SMS Desktop Software, you can build prescriptions based on equations from trusted universities.

If you have questions, please contact the Ag Leader software support team at 515/735-7000 or visit