Tag Archives: soil testing

New soil test self-mailers are a team effort

In a past Spotlight, I wrote about the efforts of the Consumer Horticulture Team to simplify the process by which consumers can submit samples of their soil for testing to get an accurate assessment of soil quality for their lawns or gardens. The result was a soil test self-mailer.

 Now, thanks to the hard work and creative efforts of the soil test team, the new Michigan State University Extension’s Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer (E3154) is now available through the MSUE Bookstore. Past kits handled lawns and veggies only. These new kits, strictly for homeowners, include all home and garden uses – lawns and veggies as well as trees, shrubs, annual flowers, perennial flowers or fruit.

 I want to thank the soil test team for their diligence in bringing this product to fruition.

 Back in 2006, Mary Wilson led an effort in MSU Extension Oakland County to increase staff efficiency, decrease turnaround time for soil-test customers and create consistency between counties in the soil-testing process. Of course, the main goal remained to protect water quality while helping people grow healthy plants. At that time, large counties would receive 600 to 800 homeowner soil tests to interpret. Mary submitted a regional Project GREEEN grant proposal to develop a related soil test website. Funded in 2007, website production involved Mary, Jeremy Lounds (the current programmer), Kevin Frank and Ron Calhoun.

 The Oakland County soil testing initiative led by Bindu Bhakta generated hundreds of homeowner soil samples. Consumers turned their samples in at local garden centers.

 Mary recalls, “We would then pick up the samples and deliver them to campus. It was a very inefficient and cumbersome process during a very busy time of year. We kept brainstorming about how to improve efficiency, make the program less cumbersome and be cost effective. During one of our brainstorming sessions with support staff person Linda Smith, we came across the idea of a soil test self-mailer based on one created by Clemson University. Bingo! We thought it would be great solution. And, we could couple the self-mailer with the soil-test interpretation website…”

 The soil test team includes Bindu Bhakta, Bert Cregg, Jon Dahl, Rebecca Finneran, Kevin Frank, Mark Longstroth, Jeremy Lounds, Cheryl Peters and Mary Wilson. Jennie Stanger and Allen Krizek were involved with the project before they retired.

 Bindu Bhakta became project leader in 2009, keeping the project moving and on track. Under her leadership, the project received additional funding from two MSUE PREF (Program Recovery Funds) grants for development and implementation. Both Bindu and the soil-test team members took this on in addition to their regular tasks, developing the soil test self-mailer and completing work on the MSU Soil test website so it could develop custom recommendations for home lawn and garden soil samples.

 How does the soil test kit work? Customers order a kit online from the MSUE Bookstore at http://web2.msue.msu.edu/bulletins2/product/soil-test-kit-selfmailer-1116.cfm. The cost is $25. The kit contains everything a home gardener needs to submit a soil sample for testing to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Laboratory (SPNL). SPNL will analyze the sample and contact the customer through email. The email will contain a direct link to the MSU Soil Test website where the customer can view his or her fertilizer recommendation and any necessary pH modification instructions. Customers without email or Internet access will receive printed copies of their personalized recommendations from the SPNL. Counties may also order soil test mailers to sell through their offices.

 Thank you to all who made this project possible. With creative use of technology, our staff worked together to come up with an efficient solution.

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Consumer Hort Team delivers a (proven) winner!

I was impressed to see the rollout of the new soil test self-mailers during this week’s MSUE Redesign call. The idea is to simplify the process by which consumers can submit samples of their soil for testing to get an accurate assessment of soil quality from their lawns or gardens. Currently, a consumer needs to pick up a soil test envelope from the county office, place a soil sample into the envelope and then drop it off at the county office along with payment for the test. We have not had a standardized price for soil tests, so some consumers with a load of soil tests to submit would shop around among our county offices to find the ones that charged the least amount for their tests.

 Now, thanks to the Consumer Horticulture Team in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, we have a standardized soil test envelope that can be purchased for a standard price of $20 either from the county offices or online from the Michigan State University Extension Bookstore or from retailers that choose to market the test envelopes. The envelope is already addressed and has postage applied that will ensure shipment directly to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab on campus. Then the results will be made available to the consumer either through an email with the specific results, or if he or she wishes, through the county office. The emailed results will link to a website that gives more information on products the consumer may want to use and application rates for their situation.

 The Consumer Horticulture Team also previewed a new 1-800 hotline that will be staffed as a call center to address questions that consumers have about gardening, lawn care and other horticultural matters. The hotline will also address questions that come via email to a central email address or through the Ask an Expert application on our website.

 It’s great to see our colleagues challenging themselves to develop a statewide system for addressing horticultural information needs of consumers, and the results are very impressive. I’m looking forward to seeing the other innovations they develop as they meet the challenge of helping us to create the Cooperative Extension system that Michigan needs in the 21st century and doing so with limited resources. Thanks to the entire team for their leadership and drive to innovate!

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