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To Fertilize, or Not: Is There Really Any Question?

Posted Mar. 31, 2001

As another article in this issue of News and Views explains, nitrogen fertilizer prices are tied to natural gas prices and, therefore, are much higher than they were last year. This increase is a concern to many as the time to fertilize warm-season grasses approaches.

Nitrogen is usually, but not always, the largest component of a balanced fertility program. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied according to soil test determinations. Nitrogen rates are normally determined according to desired or feasible yield goals. Since most producers need to maintain or increase production to maintain their standard of living and stay in business, decisions to cut back on nitrogen fertilizer usage are often difficult to justify. As with all short-term production adjustments, an enterprise budget can aid the analysis. The good news is that prices are higher, and are expected to remain higher, for all classes of beef cattle.

The attached cow-calf budget considers a moderate fertility program on introduced grass pasture such as Bermuda grass, Old World bluestem, and weeping lovegrass. Assume fertilizer costs of $265 per ton for urea, $220 per ton for 18-46-0, and $265 per ton for 0-0-60. Application costs are covered in vehicle and machinery expense categories. Interestingly enough, the total pasture expense or fertilizer cost of $102.34 per cow is about $10 less per cow than it was in the fall of 1997 when I last updated this budget. Forecasted fall 2001 calf prices are $8 to $10 higher per hundredweight, and therefore the resulting $66.23-per-cow return to unpaid resources is about $55 higher than in 1997. A similar analysis can be made for stocker cattle grazing warm-season introduced grasses.

Can you afford to fertilize in 2001? I believe you can. If you desire assistance in analyzing your situation, contact us.

Thought for the month: "Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves." – Friedrich Nietzsche