Make Money Through Soil Testing

An entrepreneur tests soil nutrients and analyzes results for clients.

| March/April 1984

Last year, as I stood near enormous stacks of soil amendments on display at the local garden shop, I was struck by the close resemblance between fertilizing a crop plot and playing Russian roulette.

I speak from my own experience, since I had never been certain exactly which additives were needed in my soil each spring. Nor had I found much help—or solace—in the warnings printed on commercial fertilizer packages. According to those guides, if I skimped on my amendments, I might not see any positive results in my garden. Yet if I overcompensated, I might "burn" my soil! Moreover, by following some of the generalized recommendations on the product labels, I could easily soak $50 into my front lawn alone, even if all my ground needed was a few dollars' worth of potash.

Finally, I concluded that I really needed to have my soil tested before I could, with any guarantee of success, begin a fertilizing program. In my part of Oregon, however, soil testing (from a professional consultant) costs $20 . . . and that figure doesn't even include interpreting the resultant data. Being nobody's fool, I went back to the same garden outlet later and purchased a do-it-yourself soil test kit. True, the packet of chemicals cost $36, but I could use it for dozens of tests.

I then spent a few hours testing the earth in my garden, lawn, and flowerbeds. The procedure was simple enough to follow. The trouble was, the charts for interpreting the data were pretty complicated to deal with. It didn't take long for me to realize, though, that my Apple II home computer could decipher the data a lot faster than I could. In fact, the computer could be programmed to print out a report giving specific recommendations and options custom tailored to each set of test results. Figuring that other people had the same problem with soil analysis that I had, I decided that providing a soil testing service could be a terrific business opportunity!

It took several days to develop the computer program, and during that time I ordered the necessary chemicals and test tubes in bulk quantities. My wife and I made up some advertising posters—with tear-off order forms—and thumbtacked them up at garden supply shops, feedstores, farm co-ops, country grocery markets, and lawn and garden nurseries in our environs.

Within a week's time, samples of soil began trickling in. By mid-June, my business had ballooned so that I had to set aside one day a week just to do tests. Now, I can manage five at once, and each round of them takes me only about 50 minutes. So, at $10 per test, I figure my time is well spent! Of course, a lot of my day is also devoted to advertising my service, ordering supplies, and waiting for the computer's printouts. Then too, this business is quite seasonal, as you might expect, so the winter months are often relatively slow.

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