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Agronomic Services — News Release

TUESDAY, DEC. 14, 2004

Contact: Kent Yarborough, regional agronomist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(252) 793-4118 ext. 122

Lime can increase fertilizer efficiency, save money

PLYMOUTH—Low soil pH is a common fertility concern in Eastern North Carolina. However, above-average rainfall in recent years has made the problem worse than usual. Growers throughout the coastal plain are urged to take soil samples and apply lime according to soil test report recommendations.

"The cost of fertilizer materials is projected to be higher in 2005," said Kent Yarborough, regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "Given that fact, liming is one of the best ways for growers to get the most from their fertilizer dollar. Lime improves plant growth and makes soil nutrients more available to the crop. Money spent on fertilizer is not well-invested unless soil pH is properly adjusted first."

In Eastern North Carolina, rainfall and use of ammonia-based fertilizers are two important factors that contribute to soil acidity. Water movement through the soil profile can remove nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, and replace them with aluminum and hydrogen. When this happens, soil pH decreases.

Ammonia-based fertilizers contribute to acid soils through the conversion of ammonium nitrogen to nitrate nitrogen. Natural processes in the soil convert much of the ammonium nitrogen to the nitrate form before plants use it. Acidity is created during this conversion process.

"People tend to take poor soil for granted," Yarborough said. "They think of it as a normal situation, not as a problem to be fixed. I see fields with stunted plants, discolored leaves and poor root growth on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be that way. Lime can increase fertilizer efficiency."

The best way to find out how much lime to apply is to submit soil samples for agronomic testing. State residents should take advantage of the free soil testing service offered by NCDA&CS. Information on how to collect samples is available from all county Cooperative Extension offices, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division office in Raleigh, any NCDA&CS regional agronomist, or online at

NCDA&CS soil test reports are posted online as soon as analysis is complete, but a copy is also sent by mail to the grower. The reports recommend specific rates of lime and fertilizer based on soil characteristics, nutrient content and crop nutrient needs. NCDA&CS agronomists are available to help answer any questions about results or recommendations.

"I want growers to ask for help, to get answers to their questions," Yarborough said. "So many factors play a role in the effectiveness of a lime application—uniformity of application, particle size, neutralizing value, method and depth of incorporation, soil type and texture, and cropping history. It only makes sense for growers to get the best information in order to make the most informed decisions. Proper liming saves money and improves profits."

Growers in Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Martin, Pamlico, Tyrrell and Washington counties can contact Yarborough for further information on sampling procedures, soil report recommendations or liming sources. Yarborough is available by phone at (252) 793-4118 or by e-mail at Growers in other counties can call (919) 733-2655 to find the regional agronomist assigned to their area.


Last Update June 1, 2009


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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