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The Importance Of Agricultural Lime


Importance of Agriculture LimeOver time, most soils have a tendency to become more acidic due to a variety of factors such as erosion, leaching and decomposition of organic matter. This is an important concern for farmers everywhere because soils that become too acidic can have significant negative impacts on crop productivity.

Fortunately, farmers have access to a relatively simple solution that reduces soil acidity—Ag Lime applications.

Background

Ag Lime, or agricultural lime, is a soil conditioner made from crushed limestone or dolomitic limestone. Ag Lime works by dissolving and releasing a base that lowers the acidity of the soil.

For crops growing in less-than-ideal acidity conditions, aglime can boost a farmer's profit potential by providing a number of benefits, including improving fertilizer efficiency by as much as 50 percent.

Despite the advantage of ag lime applications, according to the International Plant Nutrition Institute, North American farmers apply less than one-third of the needed amount of the material. Why? Many growers may not know the true value of ag lime applications.

Benefits Of Agriculture Lime

Liming soils to prevent excess soil acidity (where it limits yields) is a best management practice. The proper use of lime is one of the most crucial components to a successful crop management program because excess acidity can severely limit both short-term and long-term soil productivity.

The benefits of ag lime include:

  • Improving the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil
  • Promoting better nitrogen fixation by legumes
  • Increasing the availability of nutrients to plants
  • Reducing toxicities in the soil
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of some herbicides
  • Supplying calcium, magnesium and other minerals to crops

A Matter Of Acid Levels

Looking more closely at each of these benefits in turn, how does ag lime improve soil properties?

First, note that soil pH values indicate the acidity or alkalinity of soil. A value of 7.0 indicates the soil is neutral. A value below 7.0 indicates acidic soil, and values above 7.0 indicate alkaline, or basic, soil.

When farmers use ag lime to bring the pH from acidic to near neutral, it increases the activity of organisms that break down crop residue, improving soil structure. This can also help limit nutrient leaching and improve water retention.

Secondly, for legumes such as soybeans, ag lime promotes better nitrogen fixation, the process in which bacteria living on legume roots convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use.

Ag lime also enhances the availability of plant nutrients in a variety of ways. Crops growing in soils at proper pH levels tend to put down more extensive, finely divided root systems, which allow plants to take up nutrients more effectively. In addition, some nutrients such as phosphorus and sulfur change to a more plant-available form with ag lime applications. In fact, a soil pH between 5.8 and 7.0 maximizes the availability of a range of essential plant nutrients.

At the same time, aglime helps prevent damage from nutrient toxicities. Aluminum, manganese and iron toxicities especially may pose a problem in acid soils with a pH of 5.6 or below. Using aglime to keep the soil pH above 5.6 also helps prevent toxicity problems from calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Ag lime also improves the performance of certain herbicides and nematicides. Most herbicides, for example, perform best at near-neutral pH, and ideal pH levels promote the breakdown of certain herbicides, helping to avoid damage to rotational crops.

Finally, farmers can use agriculture lime to directly supply calcium or magnesium to the soil. Ag lime adds calcium to the soil. Dolomitic limestone adds magnesium as well, and it can be especially effective to correct magnesium deficiencies, which can be a problem in acidic soils.

Ag Lime's Return On Investment

A number of studies have shown that applying agricultural lime when needed has a very favorable return on investment, even when crop prices are low.

Application recommendations vary by crop, soil and region of the country; farmers should not apply ag lime without submitting representative samples to a laboratory. Often the report from your soil test will include a recommendation of how much aglime you need to apply.

Check with a specialist at your local Extension office or your local Southern States for more information on soil testing and determining what pH level works best for your area and crop. Find additional fertilizer finance programs, including John Deere Financial no payment/no interest.

Have you experienced situations in which an application of ag lime helped correct a soil problem or proved a wise investment? Share your comments below!

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