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           In his seminal work "Hands-On Agronomy," Neal Kinsey identifies the horns of dilemma that modern industrial farming finds itself impaled upon: “partial and imbalanced fertilization, and toxic rescue chemistry.”  How can you know if your soils have been fertilized improperly or are imbalanced?  By getting a quality soil analysis done for your field.  There is no single greater tool to diagnose your soil’s chemistry than soil analysis conducted at a qualified lab with knowledgeable technicians and sound methodology.  There are many soil reports offered by many labs, but they are not all equal! 

           Before you read this page it is recommended that you read the Soil Biology page first.  Then our hope is you will walk away from this page with a sound appreciation for the importance of healthy soil chemistry for growing healthy produce and crops.  And we're referring to more than just "how many pounds of N, P, or K are needed.”  You need to look at the entire package; that is, all the nutrients needed by the soil and your plants, both macro and micro.  Like the soil’s biology, its chemistry is very complicated and there’s a lot to learn.  This page is merely a primer, but hopefully it will pique your interest and provide a good platform to launch from.  Closer to the the bottom of this page we have included some actual customer soil sample reports from the lab AGGRAND partners with so you can see what they look like.  They are very thorough and worth the time spent looking them over.  


​Balance, Balance, Balance!

           An ideal soil would consist of something like 45% minerals, 5% humus, with 25% each of water and air.  Of course many soils today are far from ideal and we all have to work with what we have, but this is a good template to shoot for if you do try to balance your soils.  And the operative word here is balance.  Though this whole approach to soil science is largely ignored by the big Ag extensions, chemical balance is what you want to shoot for in your soil.  It’s the soil’s chemical and mineral environment that its biology resides in.  There are many instances of cause and effect at work in the soil.  If the chemistry is out of balance in any way you will have problems related to that imbalance and the larger the imbalance the greater the problems. 

           This balance involves much more than just N, P, or K.  It requires equilibrium in pH, sulfur and nitrogen, nitrogen and calcium, calcium and magnesium, magnesium to potash and sodium, etc.  It also requires balance of all the micro nutrients.  Without a proper balance in these interrelationships any long-term hopes of building your soil or growing healthy plants will be stymied at least to that degree of chemical imbalance that exists.  Balanced chemistry also has huge health implications for the end users that consume plants grown in these soils. 

           When fertilizing, keep in mind there is both a “law of the minimum” and a “law of the maximum.”  You can have too much of anything in the soil, which will have harmful consequences such as strong arming another needed nutrient out of the picture.  It rarely pays to blithely “give it” with fertilizer applications, especially if they are synthetic by makeup.  The inverse is true as well.  Too little of any needed nutrient can have significant consequences, and this also holds for the largely ignored micro nutrients, or trace minerals, where mere parts-per-million are all that are sometimes needed and separate between healthy or unhealthy soil & plants. 


​An Electrifying Experience

           Everything in your soil has an electrical charge, which adds another layer of complexity to chemical interactions.  Any soil component will be either negatively or positively charged.  Like charges repel each other and  oppositely charged minerals are attracted to each other.  Negatively charged minerals are anions; positively charged minerals are cations.  Humus, sand and clay colloids are negatively charged anions, for example, and attract cations. 

           Actually, humus is an exception to the rule here: it is chalk full of both positively and negatively charged complex, long-chain organic molecules…so pretty much any nutrient will cling to humus.  Humus is three times as fertile as the best clay.  Maintain healthy soil biology along with sufficient organic matter, minus the toxic chemical inputs, and you will slowly start adding humus to your soil again. 

           Clay colloids are particles of clay that cannot be broken down any smaller.  Most of the chemical reactivity of soils is controlled by the clay colloids.  For any fertilizer to be attracted to the soil colloid it must have a positive charge, because opposites attract.  Nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur are negatively charged anions.  This is a key reason, for example, why nitrogen is so difficult to manage in the soil.  It isn’t attracted to clay; it’s repelled by it, although the soil colloid does adsorb nitrigen onto its surface.  Calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and hydrogen are examples of positively charged cations attracted to the clay colloid.  Since many commercial farms have negligible amounts of humus in their soils due to years of conventional farming practice, this makes many forms of commercial nitrogen very prone to leaching away or volatilizing into the atmosphere.  To keep things interesting these elemental nutrients have varying strengths of polarity, or atomic charge.  


​"Charged" With the Crime of Desertion

            Let's consider a practical implication of what we've discussed so far.  What happens if you were to put down heavy amounts of chemical nitrogen to help your corn along?  It is a common practice, after all.  Nitrogen has a strong -3 charge and Calcium has a fairly strong +2 charge.  As a result the two have a very strong attraction for each other.  On top of the risk of chemical burn, when large amounts of commercial nitrogen are applied calcium in the soil joins itself to the nitrogen and happily says "goodbye" to the clay colloid.  This is a sad case of infidelity in the soil.  It's bad enough that nitrogen often acts like a vagabond instead of the permanent tenant you would like it to be, but now this trait is picked up by the calcium and the new couple (Calcium Nitride) packs up and drives into the sunset after the next hard rain.  The result is a net loss of calcium & nitrogen in the soil, a net gain of Nitrogen pollution in the environment, and a consequent degradation of soil health and the calcium/magnesium ratio, with all that entails (see below). 

           This is a perpetuating cycle.  Lower calcium levels require heavier fertilizer inputs to preserve the same yield, which then bleeds more calcium away, etc.  This is a serious problem and is confirmed in many heavily fertilized fields and lawns today, which are very low in calcium.  Calcium is a very important nutrient for plants and plays a part in many, many vital processes.  A huge function of Calcium is that it regulates nutrient uptake efficiency for virtually every other nutrient, which piggyback off calcium on their way into the plant.  If your fields are low on calcium you will need a lot more of every other nutrient for plants to grow and function properly and give the same results as if the calcium was present in sufficient amounts.  This leads to higher fertilizer bills and a simultaneous increase in chemical damage to the soil. 


​Soil Tilth and Structure

           Calcium levels also have significant implications for soil tilth and structure.  Calcium loosens soils, but magnesium has the opposite effect: it tightens and hardens soils.  These two need to be in a proper, balanced ratio, and this ratio is found in a rather narrow range.  There are so many benefits to doing this right and so many harmful consequences if you don’t it should be a high priority for all growers to keep these two minerals in the correct ratio.  If there’s not enough calcium, or too much magnesium, you will get very tight, compacted soil with resultant soil crusting and poor water absorption and retention.  Of course, too much calcium also causes problems, although this is not as common a problem.    

           The modern day demolition of soil structure is greatly accelerated by chemical use, with Glyphosate particularly singled out.  (See the Glyphosate page for detailed info on this.)  Loss of aggregate formation and stability, compaction, crusting, infiltration and water retention issues, drainage problems, drought pressure, poor microbe performance and related issues are common scenarios with commercially farmed fields today, and calcium levels are a big part of this picture. 

           Many farmers think compaction comes from the weight of their machinery, and if only they could afford tracks they’d be set!  Unfortunately, that’s a simplistic answer to a complex problem.  The weight of machinery is part of it, yes, but the bigger part of the problem today is a fundamental alteration of soil makeup.  This is caused primarily by the destruction of the soil's biology but also the steady depletion and imbalanced chemical state of our soils, as displayed in things like the levels and ratios of calcium and magnesium being out of wack in many fields, for example.  The soil's chemistry and biology work together synergistically, and have huge consequences for the structure, tilth and overall health of the soil.  A good quality soil test and someone who knows how to read it can reveal the chemical side of this equation to you.  We can help you in setting up a fertility and soil building program when your soils are analyzed with us. 

           Proper Calcium/Magnesium levels (alongside healthy microbe populations) allows for correct amounts of porosity in the soil, which enables it to better permeate air and water to better permeate, which aids microbe populations and root penetration.  Proper Calcium levels also aids in rapid decay of organic matter, while chemically induced imbalances in calcium levels and microbe populations (dysbiosis) can lead to the production of sterilants like alcohol, and formaldehyde, a tissue preservative.  And it’s not just calcium that takes a beating today.  When too much concentrated nitrogen is put down it also burns up organic matter and humus at excessive rates, for example, and this is even worse on sandy soils.  Humus is so good in so many different ways you don’t ever want to lose it.  Over application of commercial nitrogen causes soil biology to switch roles from that of nutrient "fixers" to that of "feeders," which doesn't help matters any.  

           These are some of the consequences of over-doing it with chemical fertilizers, and we’ve only touched on those related to commercial nitrogen.  Every mineral needs its own consideration, and there is a lot to keep in mind.  It can be a challenge to keep all the details straight.  Thankfully, it's impossible to cause any of this kind of damage to your soil by using AGGRAND Natural Fertilizers.  Instead, they will only help build your soil. 


​Soil pH

           When getting a soil test be sure to use a good lab that expresses nutrient content in base saturation rates.  Quite a few don’t do this.  The lab AGGRAND uses has very thorough analysis procedures and includes this. You also want an analysis that measures your micronutrients.  However, before you start worrying about them too much, you want to make sure the majors are balanced and present in appropriate amounts, unless you have an immediate, pressing need of course.  When the macros are in place, the micros start to fall into place better.  If they still need attention at that point, you can devote more time to them in your fine tuning. 

           In their efforts to balance a low pH farmers often apply ground up calcium.  Adjusting pH is fine if it needs it, but what you want to do even before that is to get your soil balanced chemically.  When balanced, the pH will often begin to sort itself out.  If the pH remains a little high or low after the soil is mostly balanced, it won’t be as crucial an issue then and it will be easier to deal with too.  Soil pH is secondary to balanced chemistry.  That’s not to say pH is irrelevant. It is important, but go for balance first.  For example, if the pH is kind of high, say, 7.5, but you need calcium to balance the soil, put the proper amount of calcium down anyways.  The pH can be lowered in other ways.  It’s easy to raise the pH with calcium.  It’s more difficult to lower it but it can be done. 

           The soil ecology also plays a part in pH modulation.  Yes, everything always seems to come back to the soil biology!  Microbes in the dirt have a buffering effect on the pH, and their presence in healthy and balanced proportions has a sweetening effect on the soil.  When guys come in and damage or largely destroy the soil biology with stacked chemical applications, the soil pH takes a hit as well, becoming more acidic.  We can't give exact numbers on how much pH is reduced because it all depends on one's farm practise, but destroying the soil ecology will lower pH, and usually this is the direction most people are trying to avoid.  This generates yet another complication inherent with large chemical agriculture that needs dealing with. 


​Analyzing Your Soil

           At the bottom of this section we've included a soil analysis report for you to look at.  Actually, it's four reports sent in together: those from a customer's three commercially cropped fields (of beans and corn), and my own garden.  These are very thorough reports.  They show amounts of all major nutrients including calcium and sulfur, and a full bevy of micros.  Most Ag extensions offer soil analysis but few offer this level of detail.  We've seen reports offered locally where not much more than the pounds per acre of N,P & K, with Ca, are shown, along with recommendations of how much of their chemical fertilizer to apply.  That is not enough information!  Reports with that little detail are virtually useless. 

           In addition to showing all the macros and micros, our reports also list nutrient content as expressed in base saturation rates (not just pounds per acre), and includes your soil's Cation Exchange Capacity: things many soil reports omit entirely.  You have to understand this is because the conventional model today subscribes to an entirely different model of understanding.  It subscribes to a chemical, allopathic paradigm.  Ours is a more holistic, biological paradigm, one that uses biology's own language to understand the state of things in the soil.  It is an inherently superior approach.  The Cation exchange capacity is necessary if you are to make sense of the base saturation amounts.  You really need all of this information if you are to make sense of the big picture in your soil and make fully informed management decisions.  If you need help understanding the report or the recommendations given we also offer consulting services for AGGRAND customers, and can help you get set up with a solid soil analysis based fertility program. 

           When your soils are sent into our partner lab, in addition to its comments you also receive the recommendations of our own certified crop advisor at AGGRAND on the optimal use of AGGGRAND fertilizers based on your soil and crop type.  (We didn't include examples of these below because with four separate plots it might get a little confusing.  We can email them to any interested.)  And our recommendations are not just restricted to AGGRAND products...if other similar products can do the job equally well or better they are also mentioned, when applicable, which gives you options.  It all depends on the results of each soil sample, which are always unique.  

           There are other good labs out there but finding them is a real challenge, because most are set-up in reference to the conventional chemical approach and view of agronomy.  Every lab analyzes soil differently.  Constant "lab swapping" is a big, big mistake when you have a lot at stake with your operation.  Two different labs might even report the same numbers in your field, but since they can arrive at their conclusions using different methodology, their numbers can mean very different things.  Do yourself a big favour: find a quality lab you can trust and stick with it.  That being said, it is very likely best (and most convenient) for most people to just stick with us and the lab we use.  It's a quality lab that is both thorough and methodological, and has a good understanding of the things we're talking about here.   You can't really go wrong this way. 

           Customer Soil Analysis.pdf

​Concluding Thoughts

           Shoot for a balanced soil before anything else.  In this regard, calcium should be your first consideration in any long-term strategy.  Calcium is extremely important for a bunch of reasons.  That doesn’t mean overlook N, P, K or even micros if any of them are needed *now* for this year’s harvest, but look at calcium first.  After Calcium, consider the big three and sulfur, and then all the micros, including silicon.  What we’re discussing here is a matter of priority more than chronology.  We can help you map out a long-range soil building and fertility program.         

           AGGRAND is not particularly well suited for use as a bulk soil amendment.  For example, if you need two tons of calcium per acre get some dump loads of crushed limestone!  Only use a few gallons of our liquid lime per acre each year for immediate plant needs, at most.  For sure use it if you need calcium *right now* (which is often the case), because crushed limestone takes years to fully incorporate even with healthy soil biology.  It takes longer if your field is not so healthy.  Our liquid lime is available immediately and throughout the season because of its ultra fine particle sizes.  

           AGGRAND is useful for amending the soil on smaller scales, especially in conjunction with green manures.  Our products are exceptionally adept at supplying your plants total nutrient needs, especially when used as a foliar spray.  This includes micronutrient needs.  They also excel at feeding the plant via healthy and robust soil biology, which AGGRAND very effectively stimulates. 

           Sound advise for growing healthy and nutritional produce is this: feed (not destroy) the soil biology and it will replenish the soil, both of which will then feed your plant.  The opportunity presented here is that you can facilitate all three of these functions simultaneously with AGGRAND, with non of the harmful side-effects that chemicals always produce.  These fertilizers are very flexible and can be made to fit into almost any operation easily: all you need is a sprayer.  Additionally, you can very quickly, almost immediately, provide for the plant's needs when applied as a foliar spray.  There's no way to lose with these products.  It's a win-win-win situation. 

           We've related some basics on what to look for in a soil analysis report and how to start balancing your soil, hopefully enough to whet your appetite, but consulting services are reserved for AGGRAND customers who are sampling their soils with us.  We hope this page helps demonstrate the immense value of planning your operation around our soil analysis based fertilizer applications.  With soil, and even tissue analysis, you don't have to shoot blind.  You will know exactly what you need and can then accurately establish an AGGRAND spray regime to match.  This approach is the most scientific, most efficient and cost-effective way to fertilize with our products.  The return on yield, superior nutritional content and improved soil health, especially long-term, far outstrip the small amount spent on soil analysis. 

          To see how all this biology and chemistry works together practically through various farming practices, both good and bad, move next to part one of  A Tale of Two Fields.


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