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Take the Mystery Out of Forage Production

Posted Feb. 1, 2007

"A neighbor had seen me routinely make four cuttings per year off my bermudagrass, and my neighbor finally stopped to ask how I did it. I said, 'By soil testing and fertility, mostly.' I pulled a soil sample for him and sent it to the Noble Research Institute. The fertility recommendations that came back scared my neighbor, so much so that he applied the recommended kinds and amounts to only half his acres. The very next cutting, my neighbor made 100 bales, which was more than he'd made in the last three years combined."

a Noble Research Institute cooperator

How many of us have been scared by the fertilizer recommendation on our soil test results? To grow introduced forages to meet livestock demand or yield goal, it is important to fertilize according to a soil test recommendation. This is even more critical in dry years. Research shows an unfertilized bermudagrass field takes about 20 inches of rain to produce a ton of dry matter, while a fertilized field takes only about 4 inches of rain to make the same amount. How do you determine what type of fertilizer and how much to apply unless you soil test?

I was visiting with a new cooperator the other day, and he informed me that his fertilizer dealer and his farm manager made his fertility decisions for him, and he was wondering if he was applying the right types and amounts of fertilizer. He had not soil tested the property he purchased. Does this make you wonder how much money soil testing could have saved him? Soil testing involves going into your pastures/fields and pulling several core samples and combining them into a single, representative sample. Divide your pastures/fields into different management areas based on production, topography and/or forage and soil types. Send your samples in to the Noble Research Institute or a reputable lab for analysis along with a "realistic" yield goal. If you have never harvested more than about 4 tons off the pasture, don't put down 12 tons per acre as a realistic yield goal. If you are a Noble cooperator, your only cost will be pulling the sample and the postage to ship it to us.

Not all fertilizers are created equal, so get to know your fertilizer sources. Some are more effective applied in the spring rather than the summer and fall. Why spend money on a complete fertilizer (e.g., 19-19-19) when you can have the fertilizer custom blended from your soil test recommendations to fit your goals? Why apply potassium when you do not need it? Look at placing that money in nitrogen and phosphorus if you need to. The only way to identify nutrient deficiencies, types of fertilizers needed and the sufficient rate to apply is by testing your soil. If you have any questions, give us a call. We will be more than happy to explain soil testing, the "ins and outs" of the different types of fertilizer sources, and how to get the most from your fertilizer dollar.