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A visit to the UW Soils Lab – Audio

Robert Florence

A visit to the Marshfield Soil and Forage Lab

Robert Florence, Director
UW Soil Testing Laboratories
Department of Soil Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

3:05 – Total Time
0:16 – What a soil and forage lab is
0:41 – Many samples per year
0:59 – The information you get
1:34 – Save money, protect environment
2:10 – More precision tools in future
2:30 – Applied chemistry to help people
2:55 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Learning about the work of the Soil and Forage Analysis Lab in Marshfield, we’re visiting today with Director Robert Florence, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Robert, give us a little idea of what a forage and soils analysis lab is.
Robert Florence: Well the basic concept is that we test soils for homeowners, farmers, to get at nutrient status so it gives you an idea if you need to apply a fertilizer. The forage analysis allows for dairies to understand the quality of their forage and to understand how to make rations.
Sevie Kenyon: Robert, give us an idea of the volume and scale of the kind of testing you do here at the lab.
Robert Florence: About on average we do about 10,000 soil and 10,000 forage samples per year. And we also do manure samples, but to a lesser extent compared to those, so I’d say probably about 3,000 manure samples.
Sevie Kenyon: Robert, what kinds of information do people get when they have one of these samples done?
Robert Florence: Well from the soils aspect, the basic package tells you your soil pH, your phosphorous, and potassium, and what that tells you is either how much lime to add to the soil to adjust your pH or how much fertilizer to add or not add if you don’t need to add any. For the forage it tells a farmer that quality and digestibility of their forage. So they can get an idea of how available that forage will be to the cows and then they will be able to adjust the rations for the different, like the protein content or the fiber and digestibility.
Sevie Kenyon: And why are these kinds of things important to the landowners and the dairy producers?
Robert Florence: These are important because it provides a tool for them to use to better make management decisions. So in the case of the soil testing, it provides them a tool to make decisions based on fertilizer, which could either save them money if they find out they don’t need to apply any and it could also save the environment from the phosphorus fertilizer application. And from the forage aspect again it is just a tool for farmers or dairies that are feeding cows, an idea to better manage the forages they are feeding, so they get an idea of the appropriate rations that they should feed.
Sevie Kenyon: Robert, can you give us a sense of what the future may hold, what do you see five or ten years down the road?
Robert Florence: Probably down the road there will be more emphasis on grid sampling for variable rate applications in a field and getting an idea of variability within your field. There’s becoming more of a presence of plant analysis and using plant analysis as a tool to see what the plant is actually seeing from the soil. Sevie Kenyon: Robert tell us a little bit about yourself, what attracted you to this kind of work?
Robert Florence: The chemistry and also the application of the chemistry. It’s really the melded of the two together where you use chemistry to get an idea of the nutrients in the soil and then being able to take that knowledge and apply it in a very immediate impact that also has a benefit of either saving one money or improving yield or also being a good steward of the environment so it’s a kind of a good mix for me as far as the chemistry and the applied application of it.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Robert Florence Director of Soil and Forage Analysis Lab University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.