July 22, 2020
To achieve cultivation success, we have to begin from the ground up. Precision soil sampling is our starting line. As environmental-focused farms, we reuse and rebuild our soil each year, giving back to the earth while we lower our ecological footprint. But to do this, we have to understand what nutrients are lacking in our soil, as well as precisely where they are missing in the field. When we're armed with this data, we can create a foundation that helps us produce exceptional cannabis harvest after harvest.
Precision soil sampling is one technique we employ on the Hive Mendocino farms to increase productivity. Through a series of soil samples taken and sent to a lab, we can decrease the amount of crop variability by identifying specific areas of the farms where the soil might have nutrient deficiencies. Because the nutrient makeup of these sections will differ throughout their entirety due to topography differences, soil properties, past IPM management, etc., it is wise for farmers to take multiple soil samples from different areas of the land. We split our cultivation spaces into "cell" areas, dividing the fields into easily identifiable sections. The use of satellite imagery can be helpful for this step, or if possible, drones can take more detailed images of a cultivation space. From within these sections, samples are taken strategically to ensure an accurate representation of each cell. This deliberate collection of soil samples gives us a better understanding of what our nutrient layout looks like in specific areas of the farms, allowing us to identify localized regions where nutrients are deficient or in excess. We can then apply fertilizers and amendments directly where they are needed, instead of to the entire cultivation space. This variable rate application (VRA) of soil amendments and nutrients equates to a decrease in capital-output and environmental impact. The location-specific treatment also saves our team time, increasing our farms’ labor efficiency.
The results we receive from our lab paints a full picture of our soil's usability. We learn the soil's fertility level, pH, electrical conductivity, humus levels, cation exchange capacity (CEC), base saturation, lime requirement, and percentage of soluble salts. If the pH of the soil is too high or too low, the plants will have difficulties uptaking nutrients. If the soil's CEC is low, that can be in indication that our medium will have a hard time holding onto nutrients. Microbes can help by turning those otherwise unavailable elements into a form that attaches to the soil, making these nutrients readily available to the plants. Our humus level, or the organic particles that create our soil's texture and make up the bulk of organic matter in the medium, can tell us how well our soil will retain water. With all of this valuable information, we can begin to apply the necessary amendments required to create the perfect medium that our plants will thrive in. We additionally test for heavy metals in the soil, such as cadmium, lead, arsenic, and mercury, to ensure our soil is polluted and won’t cause any health issues to consumers.
With the use of smart farming technologies, like GPS field mapping, variable rate application equipment, and geographic information systems, the modern farmer can now increase their efficiency, lower costs, and decrease their impact on the environment. We now have the tools to create the ideal medium that is unique to each of our farms and crops’ needs. As we move forward into the future of agriculture, efficiency and sustainability are key. Soil sampling is a great way to build a foundation for your farm that hits both of these necessary points and sets you up for successful harvests.
Hive Mendocino is always working to improve our farms’ sustainability. In fact, we all have a Simply Clean certification from The Cannabis Conservancy to emphasize how important it truly is to us! Learn more about it by clicking here.
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Photo by: Chris Butler