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Forage Fertilization Considerations

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Forage fertilization considerations - especially during tough economic times. This is a continuation of the points made last month and the factors listed and discussed below are important even during good times. As you consider which areas of the ranch to fertilize for increased forage production, the following points should be evaluated.

  1. What forages do I have that respond to fertilization? Many native range plants and most strains of "common" bermuda have a low production potential even when fertilized.
  2. What is the expected response of each forage type? Different plants have different fertilizer response potentials. Find out which plants you have that offer the most response potential.
  3. Will mixtures, including legumes, work in my program and what is required to grow the mixtures? Will extra lime, phosphorus, or potassium be required to grow legumes? What will be the cost of seed and other inputs?
  4. What soil types do I have and what is the production potential of each? Divide the farm into production areas using past experiences or county soil surveys. Consider fertilizing the areas that offer the most production potential.
  5. What are the soil nutrient levels in each field or management area? Soil test every 3 years to monitor nutrient levels. Some clovers and some varieties of wheat will grow in acid soils. Match specific plants with soil conditions.
  6. What is the expected forage yield (total ranch) with 0 fertilization? Most introduced grasses, such as bermuda, will produce 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of forage per acre without fertilization. Compare expected yield with expected forage need to decide how much additional forage will be required.
  7. Which sites will give the most yield response for the least cost? Use the soil and nutrient level information to decide this. Fertilize the most responsive sites first.
  8. Evaluate the fertilizer materials available to you and apply the most economical treatment that will produce the required yield.
  9. Consider placement methods. Banding some nutrients can give equal response with lower rates but this potential varies with site and crop being grown.

Fertilizer application decisions are just one part of the total management required to operate the farm or ranch utilizing good business principles. As you estimate total forage needs and how to provide them at the least cost, all options should be considered. Reducing livestock numbers or renting more land may need to be considered.