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Soil analysis from the very beginning

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

The oldest soil analysis of a plot which is still in use was recently submitted by Fré Zijlker from Midwolda. It dates from 1937. He has even older reports at home, from a plot which is no longer used: from 1934. It’s certainly clear that the company performed soil analysis right from the very beginning.

For research into soil fertility, Eurofins Agro called on entrepreneurs to submit old analyses of plots which are still in use. By connecting old details with more recent data and with soil management, we hope to gain new insights into the course of soil fertility. Mr Zijlker received the prizes, a spade by Spear&Jackson and a voucher for the CHECK fertiliser examination, from area assistant Bé Tammes. Product Manager Arjan Reijneveld was on hand to provide information about the Eurofins Agro soil analysis.

The Zijlker family farm

History in abundance
The former ‘Bedrijfslaboratorium voor Grond- en Gewasonderzoek’ (BLGG), the earliest ancestor of Eurofins Agro, began soil analyses in 1928. So the report dates from the early phase of soil analysis in the Netherlands. The farm has certainly seen its fair share of history. Fré Zijlker is the tenth generation to run the farming undertaking on Hoofdstraat in Midwolda. The farm has existed since the 16th century, and by being passed on from father to daughter, it’s only been in Zijlker hands in recent generations. The farm is currently on the edge of the new and large-scale ‘Blauwe Stad’ construction project. The stately ‘Oldtambster’ farmhouse in which the Zijlker family lives dates from 1870.

Area assistant Bé Tammes presents the prizes to winner Fré Zijlker.

Town and church moved
Zijlker has a sheaf of old documents in his possession. For instance there’s the property deed from 1717, and a map showing the plot division of the time, written on parchment. Zijlker: “The plots became steadily a bit longer through reclamation of the inland sea, the Dollard.” The map even shows a church which is no longer there. “The church once was the heart of the village, but it ended up in the water. By the time of this map the church was on the seashore. The church was finally demolished in the 18th century.” And that’s how old the farm is, and has been in the family too.

Historic document showing the plot division

Various soil types
Zijlker farms on 113 hectares on a variety of soil types: from light sandy soil to marine clay. He also has several plots on peaty soil. Fré Zijlker: “In the area the high peat bogs flooded, and clay was deposited. The peat is more than a metre under clay. Another part consists of young peat.” In recent years he has farmed cereals, rapeseed and lucerne for the drying sheds. The farming plan used to be more diverse: for example there were peas, marrowfat peas, winter and summer barley, canary seed and oats. Sugar beet seed was also a major crop for the Zijlkers. And clover was farmed for the horses. By the end of the 1950s the farm still had some eight to ten horses and four or five permanent employees.

The oldest report of the Zijlker family dates from 14 December 1934

Zijlker has seen plenty of soil analyses come and go in his many years of experience. With them he is interested mainly in the nutrients which could be the cause of deficiency diseases. “Manganese for instance in summer barley, or copper in oats. We have also always been interested in the soil structure. For example we use spent lime for the structure and light liming to keep the pH in order. The importance of sulphur has also become increasingly important because of the decreasing deposition of sulphur from the atmosphere.”
Loose and fertile soil has always been important to the various Zijlker generations. That’s why the plots were always in perfect order. For example, over the decades the organic chemicals rose slightly from 2.5 to between 3 and 4 per cent. Fré Zijlker has no longer been ploughing in recent years. “This creates a looser upper layer, and in particular, it’s also easy to work.”

Report from 1937. Two phosphate fractions (plant available and soil stock) were also measured, as well as various texture fractions.