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Stretch Your Input Dollars

By Eddie Funderburg, Ed.D.
Senior Soils and Crops Consultant

Posted Dec. 1, 2005

December can be a fairly slow month regarding soil and crops issues. It is a good month to think back on the previous year and plan for the coming year. It may be a good time to plan your strategy for the use of fertilizer and herbicides in 2006.

You've probably noticed that fertilizer prices are up a bit well, maybe more than a bit. They aren't coming down until natural gas prices come down. What can you do to make sure your fertilizer money is well spent?

The first thing is to take good soil samples. If you've been fertilizing heavily in the past, you may have built up a pool of nitrogen in the soil you can exploit now. On the other hand, if you're very low in P or K, you will need to apply those, or the nitrogen you apply will not be used efficiently. The only way you will know either of these things is to take good soil samples. To best determine if you have residual nitrogen in the soil, you will need to collect both 0- to 6-inch and 6- to 12-inch soil samples.

Another thing you can do is prioritize where to spend your fertilizer money. Should you apply a small amount over the entire place, or should you put more in some fields and neglect others? Should you fertilize the best ground heavily, or fertilize the less productive land to make it produce more like the best land you have?

Our feeling is that you're better off fertilizing the most productive ground you have first. It has a greater probability of converting the fertilizer to grass than less-productive land. It's more productive for a reason, such as soil depth, water holding capacity, soil chemistry, etc. The less-productive land is not productive for a similar reason in reverse. If you have equally productive land and a very limited budget for fertilizer, look at your soil test results and fertilize the fields that do not require as much P and K. This will allow you to buy more nitrogen with the same money.

Another consideration is where to apply herbicides if money is tight. Assuming fairly equal weed pressure, use herbicide on fields you apply fertilizers to before applying herbicides to unfertilized fields. The weeds will respond to the fertilizer like desirable plants and use a lot of the desirable plants' nutrients if you don't control the weeds. We usually recommend spraying introduced pastures before native grass pastures if weed pressure is similar. Another thing you can do is identify the weeds in each field and use the least-expensive herbicide option to control those weeds.

Planning where to concentrate fertilizer and herbicide inputs now can save time and money in the spring.