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Agronomic Services — News Release

THURSDAY, NOV. 16, 2000

Regional agronomist advises farmers about soil and tissue sampling

OXFORD — Tim Moore of Granville County has farmed all his life, but this year's tomato crop was his best ever with a 100 percent increase over past production. He's quick to credit the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the dramatic turnaround.

Moore used soil testing and plant analysis services offered by the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division for many years, but he didn't discover the division's field services program until about two years ago. When he called the division for help regarding his fertilization program, Robin Watson, regional agronomist, came out to Moore's farm to investigate the problem firsthand.

"I've farmed all my life," said Moore, "first tobacco and then, for the last ten years, produce . . . so I didn't know what to make of this problem. I took soil samples and tissue samples. I put out lime and fertilizer, but I didn't seem to get any results. I'd do good up to a point, and then I'd start going backwards. Robin came over to help me find out what was going wrong."

Watson and Moore got together and went over all the soil test and plant analysis reports for the problem fields. Moore said he applied the amount of lime recommended on the soil test report, but subsequent reports showed no change in soil pH. He had also followed the fertilizer recommendations, but plant analysis results showed the crop was not taking up the required nutrients.

First, Watson decided to double check the soil sampling procedure. The amount of lime and fertilizer recommended on a soil test report is meant to be applied to a certain volume of soil — usually an acre to a depth of about eight inches for cultivated crops. If the soil samples taken are shallower or deeper than eight inches, then recommendations generated will be inappropriate.

Watson discovered that Moore was routinely taking soil samples to a depth of 10 or 11 inches. As a result, his samples were not truly representative of his fields, nor did they accurately reflect the pH or nutrient content of the plant root zone.

Watson and Moore then took new samples to a depth of eight inches. Moore's subsequent soil test report indicated that he did not need to apply more lime. This solved one part of the puzzle.

Next, they had to figure out why the crop was not using the fertilizer. Watson immediately suspected lack of water. Moore was doubtful.

"I use drip irrigation," Moore said. "I thought I was applying enough water to my tomatoes. I could even see water collecting around the plastic, but Robin wanted to sample soil under the plastic and make sure."

Watson pushed a steel soil probe through the plastic. The soil core was bone dry. Then he dug a trench between plants. He could actually see white streaks where fertilizer salts were building up in the soil.

Moore saw the evidence, and he was convinced. He immediately began watering his tomatoes on a split schedule two to three times a day, depending on the weather. The results have been dramatic.

"This year, I picked tomatoes from mid-June until mid-October. Most people pick tomatoes for only about four weeks," Moore said. "And Robin's advice has saved me money in lime and fertilizer. Now I'm down to just what I need, not what I thought I needed."

Watson was raised on a farm in Columbus County and enjoys the challenges associated with his work. He has been advising farmers as a NCDA&CS regional agronomist since 1980. Based in Burlington, he serves an area that includes Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Granville, Orange and Person counties. Watson can be reached by phone at (336) 570-6850 or by email at

The Field Services Section of the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division has 14 regional agronomists located throughout the state. These agronomists are available to visit or consult with growers in their regions who need help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. For more information or for the name of the regional agronomist for your area, visit the Web site at, or call J. Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655.


Last Update August 1, 2007


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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