Simple Soil Test Helps Ensure Top-Notch Food Plots

By Tracy Breen

 Putting in successful food plots is similar to baking cookies. If you want the cookies to turn out, a specific recipe must be followed. Cutting a corner by omitting a critical ingredient can cause the quality of the cookie to suffer greatly. A food plot is similar. For a food plot to turn out, a series of steps must be taken to ensure success. The single best way to increase the chances of having food plot success is by doing a soil test before you plant. A soil test is like having a recipe in your hand, because when you receive the soil test results and recommendations, you will know exactly which ingredients will be needed to ensure a lush food plot.

Steve Scott of the Whitetail Institute knows a few things about food plots and soil tests, and his opinions about soil tests are eye-opening. “Doing a soil test is one of the, if not the, most important steps a person should take when putting in a food plot," he said. “It is also one of the most commonly overlooked or skipped steps when putting in a food plot. It’s sometimes human nature to cut corners, but when putting in food plots, having a soil test done is one corner that should not be cut.”

Someone willing to take the time to do a soil test will almost certainly reap the rewards. “If you have two food plots side by side, and one was planted without a soil test being done and one was planted using the information provided by a soil test, the difference can be like the difference between a cheap hamburger and filet mignon,” Scott said. "The burger food plot will probably be green, but it likely won’t be as full as the filet mignon food plot. The filet mignon food plot will almost always be more attractive to deer and be more nutritious and produce more tonnage.” Scott said cost wise doing a soil test is one of the best investments you can make when planting a food plot. “Seed, tractors, lime, fertilizer and many other expenses go into planting a food plot,” he said. “But doing a soil test can mean the difference between the best food plot you can imagine and total failure.” A soil test will not only help you have better results from your food plot but can save lots of money too. “When they put in a food plot, many people guess what type of fertilizer they will need and how much," Scott said. "Often, they also guess at the amount of lime they will need. When you have a soil test done, the test results will tell you exactly what the soil needs to grow the most successful food plot.”

Plain and simple, a soil test is a road map to success. When you guess at what is needed instead of knowing what is needed, you'll often spend more money on the wrong fertilizer, and the plot might even fail, which will be a total waste of money. Here in the upper Midwest, where I’m from, we often have very acidic soil. In many cases, when we plant food plots, lots of lime is needed. Some people who put in food plots simply throw a few bags of lime on the ground and call it good. One of the many things a soil test will tell you is what the pH of the soil is and how much lime will be needed to get the soil where it needs to be for a food plot to grow. “When the pH is corrected, fertilizer is better utilized by the forage you’re wanting to grow," Scott said. “Without the proper pH, fertilizer often goes to waste because the plants can’t effectively utilize it.” A soil test also addresses fertility. “

A Whitetail Institute soil test tells you what nutrients the soil is lacking and how much of a certain type of fertilizer is needed," Scott said. “A common thing people do who haven’t had a soil test done is go out and buy a few hundred pounds of 13-13-13 fertilizer. If they have a soil test done, they may find out they don’t need all the elements in the bag. They might just be lacking a little bit of one thing and a bunch of another. When a soil test is done, you will know exactly what is needed instead of guessing and buying a one-size-fits-all fertilizer. Sometimes, the soil is just lacking potassium. Why go buy a bag of fertilizer that has many elements in it when all that was needed was potassium?” A professional soil test that requires you to send the soil into a lab is certainly the smartest and best way to ensure the best results from your food plot efforts. Professional soil test services are available from agriculture universities, your soil conservation service or through the Whitetail Institute. “The Whitetail Institute soil test is set up for the average Joe who wants to plant a food plot,” Scott said. “Hunters collect the soil and send it to our lab, and we send them the results and recommendations.

It is that easy. Our test is generally easier for people to read and understand and tells you exactly what is needed for a food plot. Most of our customers are not farmers; they are food plot guys, so our test is designed for deer hunters. Our test goes as far as telling people what type of fertilizer is available in their area and how much to purchase. We keep it as simple as possible.” The great thing about a soil test is that it's really simple to do. “It’s one of the most simple tests you’ll ever take,” Scott said. “Basically, a person starts with a clean garden shovel and bucket. The important thing is to get a good representation of the soil from the entire area to be planted, not just from one location. I recommend taking a little soil from as many as 10 to 20 different places within the food plot and then mix it up well and place about a pound of it in the container that comes in our kit and then send it to our lab. By taking soil from several locations, our lab will get a good representation of the overall soil makeup and make their suggestions based on the overall picture.” Let the lab know what type of food plot you are planting and they will tell you exactly what you need to add to your soil for that particular food plot seed. When you follow the recommendations of a soil test and plant accordingly, you will end up with a more attractive and nutritious food plot — one that produces more tonnage, and will make your plot more attractive to deer than the food plot next door. “Deer are going to go where the best food is,” Scott said. “That is why it is so important to plant a food plot properly.

Hunters spend lots of time and money hunting deer. They can maximize their time and money and likely see and kill more and better quality deer by planting a top-notch food plot. All of that should start with a simple soil test.” A soil test kit from the Whitetail Institute costs less than $15 and can no doubt help you attract and grow healthier deer. Heck, you can’t even buy a pack of broadheads for $15. If you have never soil-tested your ground, buy a soil test kit now, and use it. If you follow through and use the kit and follow the recommendations, it will likely be the best $15 you have ever spent on improving your hunting success.