For decades, whenever farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area needed help figuring out what fertilizers to use in their fields, they turned to the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center for soil testing and lab work.

The building that houses the EREC’s soil testing laboratory was built at the height of the Vietnam War and originally housed the facility’s library.  More than 15 years ago, it was turned into the lab and, this month, an expansion and improvements are being unveiled.

An open house of the updated facility is scheduled for Thursday, October 22 at 3 p.m.

A second soil drying room has been added, which doubles their capacity to air-dry soil samples in ventilated drying cabinets at 90-100 °F. In addition, there is new instrumentation for some of the analysis, which improves processing time. Researchers look for levels of pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and silicon in soil extracts.

“This is the busiest planting period for vegetables and sugarcane in the EAA,”said Mabry McCray, an associate scientist in agronomy, who specializes in sugarcane. “The organic soils in this area require different methods and different fertilizer recommendations as compared to mineral soils.”

The lab began running soil tests in 1938 and has analyzed as many as 8,000 to 10,000 soil samples every year.  These additions and improvements could at least double that.

“This is an increase in samples per week and also, with shorter turnaround time, the growers can have fertilizer recommendations quickly for planting needs, as well as best management practices requirements,” McCray said.

The lab has several packages of soil analyses, which clients choose from depending on the crop they are planting and their specific needs. These packages range in price from $9 to $18 per sample.