Applying lime to rented ground a tough call

Soybean Corner: If your leased land needs lime, you may have more options than you realize. 
Oct 01, 2020
Several fields on a farm we’re renting for 2021 tested from 5.2 to 5.9 pH, needing lime. We only have a one-year lease, and we didn’t know pH was that low until we signed the lease. What’s our best option to resolve low pH for 2021?
The Indiana certified crop advisers answering this question include Steve Gauck, regional agronomy manager for Beck’s, Greensburg; Andy Like, independent crops consultant, Vincennes; and Dan Ritter, agronomist with Corteva Agriscience, Rensselaer.
Gauck: Having a proper pH is key to maximizing yields, weed control and fertilizer. Depending on your lease agreement, you could ask for a longer lease, and you apply the lime. You must be able to explain how important lime is long term to the landowner’s ground.
If the landowner isn’t interested, look at applying pelletized lime. This can be an expensive fix, and it’s a short-term solution. You will get the benefit out of it this year, especially if you’re planting soybeans. Corn can handle a lower pH in many cases, but soybeans do not. I would prefer lime over using a liquid, in-furrow calcium product in this scenario. If you can improve the entire field’s pH level, it helps with weed control and nutrient mineralization.
Like: I would start by going back to the landlord and asking them to cost-share the ag lime, since a significant portion of the value of the ag lime application will show up in years beyond your lease. If the landlord is unwilling to help with the cost, I would consider using 200 pounds per acre of pelletized lime as a temporary fix.
Pelletized lime is finely ground and formed into pellets that break down and react much quicker than regular lime, providing available calcium and increasing pH at a much lower use rate and cost compared to traditional ag lime. With this said, the trade-off of pelletized lime is that its effects are short-lived and don't fix the long-term problem like ag lime will.
Ritter: The best option is to have an honest discussion with the landlord. Since it is a short-term lease, they may cover the cost of liming. This may also be a way to leverage a more long-term lease. Another possibility would be entertaining the idea of prorating the cost of lime over three to four years. If the lease truly terminates in one year, you could recoup two or three years’ of cost of lime.
If that isn’t possible, I may still add lime, as it will help productivity and yield. This isn’t as much an agronomic piece of advice as a farm management tip. If you leave that farm in good condition, word gets out, just as it does when someone leaves a farm in poor shape. What is your reputation worth in the community and surrounding area?
From an agronomic standpoint, you’re going to need roughly 2 to 4 tons of lime per acre, depending on lime source, pH in each field and the soil. I would consider traditional ag lime applied this fall. There will be enough fines in the lime mix to be effective for the 2021 cropping season.