Probing for soil health

KILLDEER -- Adding to its outreach services, the Dunn County Soil Conservation District is hoping to help producers and themselves at the same time.

KILLDEER -- Adding to its outreach services, the Dunn County Soil Conservation District is hoping to help producers and themselves at the same time.

The district was in need of further funds, but also was looking for a new way to test soil health for producers.

They killed two birds with one stone by getting a soil probe and Global Positioning System (GPS) unit with a grant from the Dakota West Resource Conservation & Development. The probe and unit were funded through the Dakota West Southwest North Dakota Water Quality Education Project.

The idea to initiate a soil testing program for producers in the area was born when district technician Jolyn Wasem and clerk Shannon McPherson attended a meeting last spring.

"Every year the (soil conservation) districts in the state get together in the spring and talk about what each are working on," Wasem said. "We look at what brings in money and outreach services we can provide to producers in each of our own districts. One district was doing soil testing using grants from RC&D so we talked to them about it."


The two came back and talked to the Dunn County Soil Conservation District board, which includes producers and others in the county. The board essentially supervises the office and includes Chairman Larry Knudsvig, Vice-Chairman Alex Lazorenko, Gordon Kadrmas, Casey Gjermundson and Jim Danks.

McPherson said the district doesn't receive government funds like people may think. Funding comes from the county and the district's own services.

"We mainly operate on our tree (service) funds and with some federal grant monies," McPherson said. "We were down on our tree sales the last couple years and we needed to find more revenue with something else."

No one does soil testing in Dunn County, Wasem added.

"In fact, only two other counties in the state test for soil at soil conservation districts," Wasem said. "We saw a need here to have someone provide soil testing."

The district looked at the RC&D grant to help with start-up costs, she added.

"We don't have a total or the money yet, but we're getting just under $5,000 from the grant," Wasem said. "It will cover the costs of equipment...and our time."

Wasem and McPherson got the equipment in late fall 2007. They ordered it, but ran into an unexpected snag.


"It was to come out of Northwood and they got hit by a tornado at the time," Wasem said. "The equipment was just sitting there about to be shipped out. So that delayed things because their place was completely knocked down and they had to figure out what was there."

When the box arrived it was battered, but the equipment inside was fine, she added.

Despite the delay, the women got started testing soil right away.

"The goal last fall was to test 8,000 acres and we ended up testing 18,000 acres," Wasem said. "We had to quit because the ground froze and we couldn't get through, but that just confirms the need for it is here."

The soil testing program helps producers get more timely and reliable information for better nutrient management planning, which increases their efficiency and reduces the possibility of excessive nutrients being applied. Otherwise, it could lead to nutrient runoff into surface waters.

The probe works well with the Garmin GPS unit mounted in the cab of a pick-up and lets Wasem and McPherson know what points are being tested so they can return to those spots later and see any difference in the soil. They have about 2,000 acres left to test this spring and next fall they will start again.

The probe is powered by hydraulics and also is inside the truck cab. It is between the driver's and passenger seat. The new pick-up purchased to install the probe system in was modified to handle the equipment. Each sample is put into a bag and the probes are cleaned every day so samples aren't contaminated.

"Since this is our first year doing it, it was new to us and we'll probably need to make changes as we go," McPherson said. "We still get calls on it."


The district office expects to be busy this spring with tree planting, so the remaining acres to test are the only ones worked on for now.

The soil probe also is to be demonstrated at future district events.

The standard soil test checks nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, pH levels, salts, sulfur, chloride, copper and the percentage of organic matter in the sample taken.

The standard test for a field less than 100 acres is $65 with a maximum of 15 probes done.

Samples are sent to AGVISE Laboratories in Northwood.

What To Read Next
Get Local