Putting in successful food plots is similar to baking cookies. If you want the cookies to turn out, a simple recipe must be followed. Cutting a corner by omitting a key ingredient often causes the quality of the cookie to suffer. A food plot is similar. For a food plot to turn out, a series of steps must be taken to ensure success. One way to increase the chances of having food plot success is by doing a soil test before you plant a food plot. A soil test is like having a recipe in your hand for success because once you receive the soil test results, you will know exactly which ingredients will be needed to ensure a lush green food plot.

Steve Scott from the Whitetail Institute knows a few things about food plots and soil tests.

“Doing a soil test is one of the most important steps a person should take when putting in a food plot. It is also one of the most commonly overlooked steps when putting in a food plot. It is just human nature to cut corners but when putting in food plots, having a soil test done is one corner that should not be cut,” Scott said.

A person willing to take the time to do a soil test will likely reap the reward.

“If you have two food plots side by side and one was planted without a soil test being done and one was planted via the information provided by a soil test, the difference will be like the difference between a cheap hamburger and filet mignon. The burger food plot will likely be green but it won’t be as full as the filet mignon food plot. The filet mignon food plot will produce more food for the deer which is what every hunter wants.”

Scott says the $15 that a soil test costs is one of the best investments a person can make.

“Seed, tractors, lime, fertilizer and many other expenses go into planting a food plot. Forgetting to do a soil test can be the difference between success and failure.”

A soil test will help a person be more successful at planting a food plot and will save lots of money.

“Many people guess when they put in a food plot what type of fertilizer they will need and how much. 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 your food plot,” Scott added. 

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, more money will often be spent 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 am 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 some 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 soil and the plant. Without the proper PH, fertilizer often goes to waste because the plants can’t effectively absorb it,” Scott noted.

A soil test also addresses fertility.

“Our soil test will tell you what nutrients the soil is lacking and how much of a certain type of fertilizer is needed. A common thing people who haven’t had a soil test done is go out and by a few hundred pounds of 13 13 13 fertilizer. If they have a soil test done, they will find out that they may not 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 nitrogen or potassium. Why go buy a bag of fertilizer that has many elements in it when all they needed was nitrogen?” Scott explained.

There are many different types of soil tests available on the market including a do-it-yourself kit to the type of tests that large farming operations use and everything in between.

“The Whitetail Institute soil test is set up for the average Joe who wants to plant a food plot. Hunters collect the soil and send it to our lab and we send them the results. It is that easy. Our test is easy for people to read and understand and tells you exactly what is needed for a food plot. We are not farmers; we 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 simple,” Scott stated.

The great thing about a soil test is it really is simple.

“As they say, it is not rocket science. Basically a person should take a garden shovel and bucket. They fill the bucket with soil and then mix it up well and place about a pound of it in the container that comes in our kit and send it to our lab,” Scott explained. “The important thing is to get a good representation of the soil. A person should take a little bit of soil from a few different areas where the food plot will be planted, not just from one location. I recommend taking a little soil from as many as fifteen different places within the food plot. 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,”.

If you really want to hit a home run with a soil test, write down what type of food plot you are planting. The lab will tell you exactly what you need to add to your soil for that particular food plot seed. John Cooner from the Whitetail Institute spends a lot of time talking about what to plant and how to take care of it.

“If the lab knows what a person plans to plant, they can really help that person determine what the soil will need for that particular blend. The same is true for a person who has an established plot. They may need to add a certain fertilizer to maintain their plot. Letting the lab know what they have in the ground will help the experts know exactly what the soil needs,” Cooner explained.

You may be asking yourself why you would need to have a lab test to test your soil. You have a kit and could do it yourself.

“A professional lab tests soil all day everyday. They know exactly what to do and how to test soil. A full-time farmer who makes his living off the land relies on a lab when testing their soil because they know the lab will tell them everything they need to know to increase the yield on their land. Having our lab test your soil is the best way to ensure success,” Cooner added.

At the end of the day when all is said and done, when a person goes by the guidelines of a soil test and plants accordingly, they will end up with a more attractive food plot, a more nutritious food plot and a food plot that produces more tonnage which will make your food plot more attractive to deer than the food plot next door. 

“Deer are going to go where the best food is. 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 deer by planting a top notch food plot. All of that starts with a simple soil test,” Scott explained.

A soil test kit costs less than $15 and can be the secret ingredient that helps you grow healthier deer and possibly kill bigger bucks. Heck, you can’t even buy a pack of broadheads for $15! If you have never soil tested your ground, go buy a soil test kit this spring... and use it. A soil test can be done anytime of year. Chances are if you follow through and use the kit, it will be the best $15 you have ever spent on improving your land.


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