By Shannon Alford, PhD
Exciting changes are underway at the Agricultural Service Laboratory (ASL). To appreciate the changes, it’s important to make note of when services began at the ASL and how long equipment has been in operation.
Dr. Paden began testing soils from S.C. cotton fields in 1928 at Clemson College, and because of that work with farmers, a program for the public was established in 1938. After moving locations on main campus a few times, the lab was moved to its current location, a laboratory building erected in 1980, on Old Cherry Road.
Some mechanical equipment used since the 1950s moved in and a few of those pieces have been in continual use since then. (That’s almost 70 years of use!) Other analytical equipment has been updated regularly over the decades of serving S.C. farmers and homeowners with soil-testing.
Soil sample preparation and analysis is laborious and can be harsh on equipment because of the nature of the samples, and over time equipment needs to be repaired or replaced. The ASL was fortunate to receive funding in 2020 via Clemson Extension for updating some of the older equipment in the building.
Soil drying is a key step in preparation of soil samples for analytical testing. This step removes all moisture from the soil in a controlled temperature chamber. In this way, the soil matter itself is tested based on volume and weight, eliminating the confounding factor of moisture.
This step also allows for soil samples to be ground uniformly so each portion tested is representative of the entire uniform sample. Thus, one aging and critically important piece of equipment in the ASL soil-testing section was the soil drying oven.
When the lab facility was built, there was no drying oven and only fans were used to dry samples laid out on tables. A drying cabinet was installed in the following years. This old drying cabinet consisted of metal racks inside a plywood door cabinet with heating elements along the floor and moisture exhausted to the roof.
The new oven was designed to have insulated, fully-closing and attached metal doors; a more ergonomic bottom shelf height for users; additional heating elements extended from the original ones on the floor and also on the wall; dampers to control fresh air flow; to fit the current soil sample racks; and be of similar size to occupy the same space in the lab building. ASL staff worked closely with Carrington Engineering Sales out of Charlotte, N.C. and a local fabrication company to custom build the new pieces for improved efficiency and performance.
The new soil-drying oven was the first of the new equipment delivered March 25, 2021, amid much excitement. It took some ingenuity to get the new oven into the building, as the old one was removed in pieces. ASL and fabrication staff worked together to install the oven and Clemson Facilities electrical staff worked to wire the new heaters. The new oven is fully operational for improved soil-drying capacity and efficiency.
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