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Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Summer 01 > Article

Behind the Scenes
by Merritt Melancon

Of all the tests taken at the University of Georgia, the ones with the most riding on them aren’t always given in the classroom.

Soil tests — analyzed by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service’s Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Laboratory — can be worth millions of dollars.

By determining what nutrients lie in the soils of a field or garden, these tests can help the farmer or homeowner apply just the right fertilizers and lime — making crops more productive, saving money on unnecessary additives and protecting the environment.

Collected by farmers, gardeners and homeowners all across Georgia, more than 100,000 samples stream into the Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Lab every year. Tested for pH levels, and mineral and/or nutrient content, the samples are submitted through county extension offices and come from every corner of the state.

A quick turnaround time is vital for handling this sea of soil samples, lab program coordinator Jeannie Dawson said. Because most Georgia farmers use these test results to prepare their fields for the growing season, the lab processes more than 50 percent of its yearly volume of samples by the end of March.

Computers and the Internet have improved the lab’s response time considerably, Dawson said. Test results now can be downloaded by county extension offices, speeding the return of recommendations to inquirers.

Begun as a mobile laboratory a half-century ago, the lab’s state-of-the-art equipment now is based permanently in Athens and operates under the umbrella of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

For more information, access http://www.ces.uga.edu/pubcd/L387-w.htm

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More than 100,000 soil samples are analyzed for min-eral and nutrient content each year at UGA’s Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Laboratory. Lab program coordinator Jeannie Dawson uses an electrical meter to measure a sample’s pH level. Photo by Paul Efland