A soil test is a useful means of analysis in agriculture, horticulture, and gardening. Soil testing provides details on nutrient concentrations and contaminants. Soil tests will also aim to measure increasing acidity, pH level, mineral contents, as well as the presence of any pollutants or toxicities that might affect fertility and plant propagation. Soil tests are also completed for geochemical, ecological, and engineering purposes. In these soil tests, water content, specific gravity, plastic limit, compaction, density, and other factors will be measured.


In agriculture, the main use of a soil test is to determine whether optimal corp production can be expected, if any contamination or soil nutrient depletion has occurred, and/or if fertilization and other treatments should be used to improve the soil’s health and nutritional balance.

The main nutrients that soil testing detects include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine.  Mineral contaminants detected in soil tests are arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, and zinc.

How To Soil Test For Nutrients, Pollutants, And Crop Growth

Testing soil for agricultural purposes typically requires the collection of a soil sample that is then provided to a lab for analysis. The process usually starts by choosing a soil testing service provider or agricultural laboratory. The lab may provide a sample collection kit or detailed instructions on how the soil should be collected. Typically, soil samples should be collected using clean tools and taken from the side of a hole dug at least six inches deep. The size of the sample should be roughly a six by 1/2 inch slice.

The lab may request several or more samples from a single planting area. An ordinary container, such as a plastic bucket, can be used to collect the samples. Some soil testing kits, especially mail-in testing kits, may provide plastic or paper bags or dedicated containers for keeping samples. After the samples are submitted to the lab and the test is completed, the results will show the nutrient levels of the soil as well as any contaminants.

Based on this information, the lab may provide recommendations for specific types of planting, soil treatment, and other measures to improve crop health and yield.

Is A Soil Sampling Test Worth The Money?

The cost of soil tests varies based on the number of samples, the nutrients and contaminants being tested and analyzed, and the services provided by the lab. On average, a lab may charge $10.00 per sample on top of additional fees. Since multiple samples are needed for multiple areas of land, an average soil fertility test will cost between several hundred to $1000.

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If digging services are needed, and if the soil analysis is required for a larger family farm or small commercial grower, a comprehensive test can cost a few thousand dollars. Additionally, there are many budget options and at-home testing kits that can help growers who simply want to test soil for a small garden.

Anyone who is serious about growing crops that are healthy, nutritious, and deliver the best yield for the cost and labor, should consider soil analysis a worthy investment. A thorough analysis of nutrients and contaminants will enable growers to take more effective action for land fertilization and other cultivation methods. Addressing soil issues prior to planting can save a lot of time, effort, and money by preventing problems that cause poor crops.

Once the soil is deemed fertile and nutrient-rich, this enables the grower to focus on other concerns that might interfere with otherwise excellent planting results. Soil testing removes a lot of the guesswork and makes it easier to direct investments and maintenance more effectively.

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