With soil sampling from agricultural fields, it is usual to avoid any small patches of different soil (e.g. boggy or very stony); dung/urine patches, gateways and headlands should also be excluded. Large areas within the field that have had a different manuring/fertilizing history should be sampled separately. An auger, bulb-planter or trowel should be used to remove a core from an appropriate depth of 7.5 cm for grassland and 15 cm for arable.

Stones and plant debris should be discarded. Sampling should be avoided after heavy rain or in time of drought. Sampling should also be avoided for

P, K or Mg analysis for 8 weeks after applying fertilizer, 12 weeks after manure or slurry, or 12 months for pH determination after liming. Further details are available from the Potash Development Association (PDA, 1999c). If the soil is to be analysed for nitrate, it should be kept moist in a grip-top polythene bag and placed in ice as soon as possible before transport to the laboratory. Unless analysed immediately, which is unlikely, it should be frozen until a convenient time for analysis. This is to arrest microbial metabolism causing denitrification (conversion of nitrate by reduction to ammonium nitrogen and nitrous oxide gases). Biological activity and other problems have been discussed by Cresser (1990).

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