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CONTACT: J. Kent Messick, Field Services Section chief
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655
Photo of Jason Brock and Charles Mitchell
Jason Brock, left, of Taylor's Nursery talks with NCDA&CS regional agronomist Charles Mitchell about agronomic test results.

In tough economy, NCDA&CS agronomic services retain value

RALEIGH — The current economy doesn’t have many bright spots, but it has helped the staff at Taylor’s Nursery appreciate several inexpensive services available from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Proprietor Richard B. Taylor Jr. and his assistant, Jason Brock, are now using soil testing, plant tissue analysis, solution analysis and field consulting to optimize growth, particularly at their field site. They were introduced to these services largely through casual conversations with one of their customers — NCDA&CS regional agronomist Charles Mitchell.

“We were impressed to discover the scope of the resources available through the state and to realize that we had not even been touching them,” Brock said. “Last fall we suspected a fertility problem with some of our hollies and decided it was time to start a dialogue with the Agronomic Division.”

Taylor and Brock scheduled a meeting with Mitchell at their field nursery in Louisburg. The 5-year-old, in-ground hollies were not as large as they should have been and were showing some yellowing. Mitchell assessed the site and demonstrated how to collect soil and plant tissue samples for problem diagnosis. When tests were complete, Mitchell sat down with Taylor and Brock and went over the reports item by item.

“Up until then, we had been using soil testing primarily to check pH,” Brock said. “We weren’t making full use of it to optimize fertilizer or lime applications. When Mitchell reviewed our soil and plant tissue reports, he explained how the ammonium fertilizer we were putting out was acidifying the soil and how the low pH had led to symptoms of manganese and sulfur toxicity. He provided site-specific recommendations for lime application and foliar fertilization to remedy the situation.”

Based on Mitchell’s suggestions, Taylor’s has switched from ammonium fertilizer and is in the process of trying out three different nitrate formulations. The hollies are recovering nicely, and Brock expects them to be fit for sale by next fall. What he had thought might be a loss will now likely be profit.

Brock is already thinking ahead and planning a comprehensive and proactive management strategy. As trees are harvested from the field nursery, he plans to implement a program of soil sampling, liming and nutrient assessment to prepare various existing sites and new sites for the next planting of trees.

“We want to be able to make all of our corrections on the front end,” Brock said. “That’s where the soil lab comes in. With an NCDA&CS soil report, we can get exact, specific recommendations, and we end up with more peace of mind.”

Brock trusts not only the science behind the analytical lab results, but also the experience and advice of NCDA&CS personnel. “Agronomists like Mitchell see a lot of problems,” he said, “and that gives them a broad base of knowledge. They give good advice. That means people like me don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

In addition to soil testing and field consultation, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division provides several other lab services useful to the nursery industry. Plant tissue analysis can help diagnose and correct suspected nutrient deficiencies or toxicities. Solution analysis assesses the suitability of source water for use in irrigation, fertigation or pesticide solutions. This test can also verify that target concentrations are reached in nutrient solutions. Analysis is available to monitor the chemical properties of soilless potting media, and waste analysis is useful in determining the suitability of composts for use as substrate amendments.

Soil testing and agronomic consulting through NCDA&CS are provided free of charge for N.C. residents. All other agronomic tests are available to residents for minimal fees and to nonresidents for slightly higher fees. Detailed information on fees, sampling techniques and preferred shipping methods are available online at

Agronomist Charles Mitchell serves growers in Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, Vance and Warren counties. He can be reached by phone at (919) 562-7700 or by e-mail at To find contact information for other NCDA&CS regional agronomists, visit



NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Brian Long, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 733-4216; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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