Kinsey Agricultural Services

A consultant I know and respect says using the Albrecht system of soil testing has actually caused problems for one of his clients, and he recommends staying away from it. If the program really works as well as you say, how could something such as this happen?

There are several possibilities that come to mind when I hear of statements such as this made by a consultant, or perhaps even a farmer or grower who has suffered a loss while trying what he is told is the Albrecht program for soil fertility.

Was the Soil Test Truly Albrecht?

First in my mind is the question of the validity of the soil test itself. Anyone can say they are using the Albrecht system of soil testing. There are many tests that make such claims simply because they use cation exchange capacity and base saturation percentages on the test they have determined to use for making fertility recommendations. But as we have found over the years, the measured calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium figures can be quite different from one lab to another.

Take calcium as an example. On the test we use, a medium to heavy soil should have around a 68% base saturation of calcium for maximum benefit. But when the figures on the test we use is 68%, some soil labs, testing the same soil, have shown closer to 60%, others 75%, and some even 80%. Which one is right?

In measuring magnesium, when the ideal of 12% shows on our test, in our experience some labs may test as low as 8% on the same soil, while still calling for 10-20% magnesium as the proper range on their test.

On a medium to heavy soil, when magnesium rises above 12% it is already causing the soil’s fertility requirements – and depending on the crop, also the yield – to suffer. So if someone is growing corn there, and the magnesium is at 12% on our test, with calcium at 68% as stated above, it requires 1 lb. of nitrogen to produce a bushel of corn. But if the magnesium is raised by just 2%, it now requires 1.25 lbs of nitrogen to grow each bushel of corn. On the other test results mentioned in the preceding paragraph, which was being used by another consultant claiming to follow the Albrecht system, if the farmer raises the magnesium to the recommended minimum of 10% as reflected on that test, he is actually pushing it too high for maximum nitrogen efficiency. This would also reduce the yield of soybeans or alfalfa on that soil. So again, how do you know what answer is right?

Test Your Soil Tester!

Sometimes the soil test has been correctly performed, but the person doing the interpretation does not really understand what the test actually shows as needing to be done. Making incorrect fertilizer recommendations can cause even the best fertility program to look bad.

One good way to find out who can help you is to first determine what the numbers are supposed to be on the soil test for best results. Then sample an area that consistently produces well, and one that consistently does poorly, and – without identifying which is the ‘good’ soil and which the ‘poor’ – ask the consultant to choose which is which, and explain why.

Follow Through With the Program

Another possibility is that the farmer just partially followed the program, and as a result, makes the program look bad to those who are observing from a distance. Even when the Albrecht system is correctly employed, it can require as much as three years of correctly following the recommendations to begin to see the greatest benefits. To prove the program for yourself, choose an area large enough to justify buying and spreading the fertilizer and soil amendments needed, but small enough to budget for follow-through on all that the soil test shows to be needed, for three full years.

In Conclusion

If someone tries to tell you that the Albrecht system does not work, first find out if they are judging it based on only one year of results. If a soil has not been receiving the needed nutrients in correct amounts for several years, correction will likely take longer than one year. It may happen in less time, but typically it takes three years to get the soil into good shape.

Next consider whether the person doing the recommendation understands what the soil test actually is showing needs to be done. Can the consultant consistently determine the good from the bad by just looking at the soil test results? If not, how could they really understand how to use the Albrecht system correctly in the field?

Finally, consider the soil test numbers themselves. But keep in mind: the numbers do not have to match everyone else’s numbers; the big test is whether the consultant knows what the numbers mean in the context of that particular lab’s tests well enough to get the best results in the field.

We find the greatest challenge to the use of the Albrecht system is that of helping the farmer or grower verify for himself that all the nutrients that are shown to be missing, when provided correctly, will result in the best yields and quality.

It is not our goal to get people to send us soil tests, but to convince them to begin in a fashion that will allow at least a test of three years duration. It is not necessary to take our word, or the word of anyone else, when you have proven it to yourself right on your own soils.