Review: Hands-on Agronomy

Title: Hands-On Agronomy: Understanding Soil Fertility & Fertilizer Use
Author: Neal Kinsey
Farmer, consultant
Publishing Info: 1993& 2009, Acres U.S.A.
Book Type: Soil science, farm examples
Kinsey grew up on a farm in SE Missouri and attended college for marketing and agricultural economics. His soil knowledge comes from jobs outside academia, as agricultural operations manager for the Ambassador College Ag Dept, and through personal tutelage by Dr. William Albrecht (1973 Agronomist Certificate). In 1977, he founded Kinsey Agricultural Services and is busy throughout the U.S. and world on consulting projects. This book was first published in 1993 and revised in 2009.

This book opens with Kinsey’s personal farming dilemma (on his Dad’s farm) and his first interaction with Dr. Albrecht. The problem was declining yields from clay soil with no feedback from basic soil results. Dr. Albrecht pointed out the need for detailed analysis and that “calcium is what puts all the other nutrients into place” (4). This is a key concept for Albrecht and thus it also permeates throughout the rest of Kinsey’s book. Another tenant in this book is that “as long as you stick to the basic laws of chemistry, physics and biology, you can work with soils anywhere” (20). This focuses on feeding the soil to feed the plant based upon good soil testing results. Other key concepts in this book are understanding the importance of CEC, not basing calcium amendments on pH, performing an accurate/thorough soil test, getting nutrients in balance (law of minimum and maximum).

As stated, calcium is central and required at 60-70% of clay/soil solution. Kinsey explains: “Every other nutrient has to ride over the back of calcium to get into the plant. Calcium puts the starch into the leaf. Calcium activates several enzyme systems. It increases yield by reducing soil acidity. Its use as a fertility agent increases calcium availability. Moreover, calcium improves microbial activity” (75). Kinsey goes on to explain that in general, calcium loosens a soil and magnesium tightens a soil. But there is a caveat, high calcium and low magnesium can also present a tight soil! Thus, Kinsey stresses the need to stay within 60-70% calcium and 10-20% magnesium.

The main drawback to the book is its organization. Although the chapters are set out in an orderly manner, within each chapter there are confusing sidebars and multiple stories that start with “I had a client…” These are distracting and would be better used if organized consistently with subtitles or if he grouped case studies together. Further, there is a remarkable lack of drawings or pictures to help those will little soil science or farming background to pick up these concepts. That being said, if you have this basic understanding and a complete soil analysis, you can flip through the book and pick out topics and examples that are perfectly aligned to your own situation (which is what I did).

Due to its rambling structure, I would recommend this book to someone who may have soil science background and most definitely a soil test to go off of. Reading this book straight through was confusing.