Applying lime in fall — to take advantage of winter rains and the fact that it can be incorporated into soil while tilling — makes sense.

But soil test your fields first, suggests Larry Oldham, soil specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Controlling soil acidity is the most important aspect of soil fertility management, he notes. “If you've only got so much money to spend on a soil fertilizer input, invest in lime before you invest in mineral fertilizers such as phosphorus or potassium,” Oldham says. “If you get your lime correct, the nutrients that are already in the soil will be more readily available. Nutrient availability is affected by the pH of the soil.

“If you have not had a soil test done in more than two years, have your soil tested as soon as possible,” he adds. Oldham recommends that producers test soils at least every three years.

“Fields with fewer than 20 acres can be sampled as one unit, unless there is a topography difference within the field, such as bottomland and an adjacent slope. Any field larger than 20 acres should have more than one sample.”

He recommends taking two samples from fields that have received surface-applied fertilizers over several years. Take the first sample from the 0- to 6-in. depth, and the other sample from the first 2 in.

Follow soil test recommendations from the deeper sample to determine phosphorus and potassium management, and the results of the more shallow sample for lime management.