Martin Moore, a laboratory manager at a large industrial farm in Washington state, owns three of our instruments. They grow everything from apples to wheat, which feeds America all the way to Japan. Being a Timberline Ammonia Analyzer user, we decided to ask Martin why he uses and likes our instruments for their farm.


Me: Could you tell me about yourself? Who are you, what is your background, what do you do now? 

Martin: I graduated from Washington State with a chemistry degree and I worked in two soil labs before this one.  So that was my first exposure to the AG world, except that I have uncles and cousins who are farmers. My first lab job was in ag and I’ve been doing it ever since.  I’ve been here 30 years.  When I first got here we were doing colorimetric with antimony and chromotropic acid, which is real hard on your jeans. You get holes all over the place.  It’s very time consuming and completely manual. After time we switched to a segmented flow analyzer. They throw bubbles in there that supposedly makes it all better. We ran that for ten or twelve years and then we switched to your unit.

Me: What does a typical day for you look like you?

Martin: It depends on the time of year. Usually I don’t have anything on my schedule when I come to work and then it just kind of fills in.  Either fixing errors in the lab, looking at data… I’m in charge of lots of things for the farm that I work for, so I might be spitting out variable rate spread maps for our farmers, doing our irrigation reports. And some other research stuff that I get called into. It varies day to day.

Ammonia Analyzer Review

Me: How old is your original Timberline unit?

Martin: How old is it? Oh, probably 15 years or so.

 Me: Wow, I’m glad to hear it’s still working and still running well.

Martin: Yes and about ten years ago I was able to send it back and Timberline refitted it with some parts and cleaned it all out. They spiffed it up for me and that was quite helpful.

Me: Could you tell me why you are measuring ammonia and nitrate?

Martin: We are doing it for our soils. It’s critical in agriculture.  Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that we add. Our major crop is potatoes.  We will monitor the soil nitrogen weekly and in the plant weekly throughout the growing season so that we make sure it’s at the level that we want it. We add nitrogen weekly as well. And in the soil its either nitrate or ammonia, it will convert in between. There’s urea that you can add that converts quickly to ammonia. but otherwise any nitrogen in the soil is tied up in the soil so those are the two forms that are free and available for the plant.  

Me: How did your previous ammonia analysis methods compare to ours?

Martin: The manual methods were manual and it used very strong acid so it was hazardous and left lots of waste. The segmented flow method was colorimetric as well. It automated the method which was highly helpful, but it had a lot more chemistry involved.  You know, the thing I like about the Timberline is that you got your buffer and you got your caustic and then for nitrate you have the little zinc module. It is very simple, very straightforward, very few things to go wrong. It’s simplicity and that’s the beauty of it.

Me: Well I’m glad that our instruments are convenient for you.  How many do you own?

Martin: We’re on our third one here.  We have two of them running. Only the first original one that we got, which is about twelve or fourteen years old, that’s the only one we finally retired. And it was running when we retired it, we just needed to upgrade our software. It was running on Windows XP and that’s no longer supported. Our IT staff insisted that I do something to upgrade.

Me: How often do you need to service the instrument?

Martin: The tubing, just the peristaltic pump tubing, and the zinc cartridge is every week, every other week when we see a problem. But that’s virtually the only servicing we do. Sometimes we’ll blow out tubes if they’re clogged with something. We don’t actually filter our soil samples, we just let them settle and then we’ll take an aliquot or a subsample out so we can not get the soil in our test tubes. But sometimes we’ll get something in or the soil will build up over time and clog the tubing.  So that’s the only real issue we have and it’s self induced. If I wanted to pay a bunch more for filter paper and risk contamination from the filter paper I’d have less clogging.

At the end of our interview I asked Martin about how large their farm really is. Martin stated that they own over 70,000 irrigated acres and are expanding, which is why they need an accurate, fast, and reliable system analyze their soil. To find out more about our analyzer’s place in agriculture, check out our ag application page.