Field Management

Growers plan and execute their planting and input strategies each year to ensure they meet their crops’ needs throughout the season. With so many options for getting nutrients to the plant, from continually advancing commercial fertilizers to tried-and-true classic methods, each grower needs the right soil health strategy to maximize success. 

AgriGold agronomists Josh Johnston and Steven Heightchew share some insight to help growers maximize the health of their soil and ensure full plant nutrition. 



For decades, farmers have been feeding crops with commercial fertilizers like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Some growers respond annually to the crop needs during the current growing season and strategize their fertilizer applications accordingly. 

Older, but still relevant, traditional soil health practices rely on years-long commitments. These include rotating corn and soybeans to fix nitrogen in the soil, using cover crops between growing seasons, and reducing tillage to increase the soil’s water and nutrient-holding capacity.

“Conventional soil health practices are bringing high yields, but so are commercial practices,” Heightchew says. “It’s like cooking: if we’re both given the same recipe and ingredients, you’re going to tweak it your way and I’m going to tweak it my way. We’ll end up with the same results; we just got there in slightly different ways.”

Between the two, there is no right or wrong way to approach soil nutrition. It’s likely that the best solution is a combination of the two styles. 

Johnston has spent the last several years evaluating NPK levels in soil compared to the amount of nutrients accessed by the crop throughout the growing season. 

“Soil health is such a broad bucket,” Johnston says. “There are so many things you can drop into that. Macronutrient applications are part of almost everyone’s plan and have been for 50 years, but it’s actually quite hard to get phosphorus and potassium into the plant.” 



Year after year, crops are more impacted by environmental factors than from soil health tactics. Year over year, on the other hand, soil health will continue to improve with the right practices. It’s clear at the end of each growing season what environmental conditions impacted a crop (positively or negatively), but it can take several seasons to see whether soil health practices are paying off.

Environmental conditions like weather not only affect yields, but also hamper the ability to track other measures of success for the season. While environmental factors can change the data you see each year (drought, excessive heat or pollution can impact how a crop responds to the nutrients available, or in even more challenging years severely damage the crop) soil health is still building behind the scenes.



Soil health is a long game. Because farms’ conditions vary from year to year, it’s not always possible to attribute wins and losses to a certain practice. Whether a grower utilizes commercial applications or traditional practices, they often won’t see the benefits of those actions in the first year. 

“We’re throwing all that commercial fertilizer out into the field, and the ROI is initially pretty poor,” Johnston says. “The value comes when you acknowledge that you’re playing the long game with dry fertilizer application.” 

With this in mind, it’s important to remember that improving soil health is a long-term commitment. But it will increase yields over time and add value to a farm for years to come.



Yield matters—and high yields prove results. But in long-term projects like improving soil health, there are more ways to measure progress than simply waiting to see higher yields. 

The first step is to plan ahead. Plant early and be prepared to capitalize on the large pools of nutrients available at the end of a crop’s life cycle. 

“Your corn is healthy and taking in nutrients until black layer, so soil health strategy and late-season nitrogen conversations are going to help us control the controllables to get the soil working for your advantage at the end of the season,” Johnston says.

Make a plan early in the season with your agronomist to measure soil health throughout the year. 

“Start collecting data in the spring and continue to reevaluate throughout the growing season to see if your soil health changes drastically throughout the season,” Heightchew says.

By sampling throughout the season, farmers can work with their agronomist to graph out their tissue data and compare it to AgriGold’s vast database. 

“This comparison makes it easy to identify shortcomings on your farm,” Johnston says. “I tell people when they start this process: don’t modify anything. Just farm like you always farm and pull tissue samples at our six key timestamps. Use our protocol to fix your specific shortcomings.”

With many locations across their regions, taking multiple measurements at each farm throughout the season may not be an option for AgriGold agronomists. Giving farmers access to knowledge and tools to sample throughout the season is key.

“We have to measure based on tissue sample,” Johnston says. “Mapping the flow of nutrients throughout the course of the year helps us build a better plan of attack to mask over the previous year’s shortcomings. Then, we can create a specific strategy for each grower’s unique needs, which will hopefully lead to higher yields.” 



When a new or updated practice takes up time and resources, growers need to know it will pay off. But when it comes to soil health, long-term conservation and longevity are the name of the game. 

“We’re not just chasing a yield,” Heightchew says. “We want to do things the right way to benefit our soil for the next generation of farmers.”

Contact your AgriGold representative today to learn more about your soil health options to maximize success.