Lawrence County farmer Tom Wallace understands the God-given responsibility he has to keep his land healthy.
"My grandfather saw what happened in the Dust Bowl firsthand," Wallace told The Jonesboro Sun. "We were blessed to be given this land, and it's the least we can do to take care of it."
Wallace, a fifth generation farmer, grows soybeans, rice and cotton and said he has seen the gambit of poor decisions when it comes to land management.
"People will plant the same crops, leave their pumps running, not fertilize, and it doesn't matter how long they've been farming," he said. "Older isn't wiser."
One of the main ways soil quality can be checked is by testing the pH levels or acidity of the soil. As harvest concludes across Northeast Arkansas, scientists are encouraging farmers to get their fields tested during the lull in work, a state division of agriculture scientist said.
"The growth crops is relatively slow or non-existent during the fall and winter, so fertility deficiencies are less crucial," forages expert Dirk Philipp said. "Correcting pH will take somewhere between four and six months or even longer, so fall is a good time to tackle it."
The acidity of soil determines the quality of a soil. If the acidity is not high enough, then essential nutrients cannot be dissolved and processed by the crops. Nitrogen is added to correct any imbalance in the soil. If left unadjusted, the soil will continue to leech acidity until it can no longer process nutrients, leaving the field barren.
Wallace wants soil tests to be a routine part of farming, and is pushing neighbors to also test their land.
"I pick up the boxes, take the samples and send them in," he said. "It isn't any hassle, and there's no reason for people to skip it."
Philipp also recommends that farmers send in samples of their soil for an analysis on a regular basis. Farmers should take 15 to 20 samples each from 6 inches deep, mix all the samples into a bucket and fill a soil box provided by a county extension office, he said. This process should be repeated for each distinct subsection of land.
Arkansas is one of several states that offer the service for free at the division of agriculture soil testing and research laboratory in Marianna. The lab reports will include phosphorous, potassium and mineral analysis. They will also indicate the pH level and how much lime should be applied. Target application rates for nitrogen will also be included based upon what crop was indicated by the farmer.
Wallace has had his soil tested the past eight years and said the scientific insight into how well he is doing his job has been invaluable.
"It reaffirms me when I'm right and tells me when I stray and what I can do to correct it," he said. "If people treat their land poorly, we all suffer, and this is one of the best ways to see that it doesn't happen."