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Noble Research Institute reports expected forage establishment costs

By Jon Biermacher, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Jason Bradley, Agricultural Economics Consultant
and James Rogers, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Posted Aug. 10, 2016

It is that time of year when producers in the region make preparations to establish winter cereal pasture for stocker cattle to graze over the cool-season months. At the Noble Research Institute, we establish several hundred acres of cereal pasture at multiple locations for many stocker cattle grazing research studies. As a result, we feel like it would be valuable for us to report the costs we expect to incur for establishing and maintaining our cereal forage pastures.

Table 1 reports our average expected costs for establishing wheat plus ryegrass cereal forage using no-till and reduced-till establishment systems. We investigate forage, animal and economic performance of alternative stocker cattle grazing trials in an effort to develop systems that work more economically than conventional systems that producers use in the region. In addition, we focus our research efforts on grazeout-only systems. That is, we do not conduct grazing research for dual-purpose (gain and grain) systems. The primary distinction in terms of cost between grazeout and dual-purpose systems is the cost associated with purchasing and planting ryegrass, which accounts to $8.25 per acre (15 pounds of seed at 55 cents per pound) for no-till and reduced-till systems.

Table 1

Like producers, we have to prepare a budget for expenses we expect to incur for our on-farm grazing trials, including expenses for establishing cereal pasture. It's important to note that, like producers, we too experience variation from year to year in growing conditions and prices, so the numbers for our two systems reflect our historical average growing conditions and our best knowledge about prices for the inputs we use. In addition, in an effort to be transparent, we use custom machinery rates published by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service to reflect costs for various establishment and maintenance practices (i.e., discing, cultivating, drilling seed, spraying herbicides and insecticides, and applying fertilizers).

Soil health is very important to maintain economic productivity. We conduct annual soil sampling on all fields and use the results to obtain accurate fertilizer needs for the growing season. As a result, our costs for fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphate, potash and lime) reflect long-term average soil test results. Prices for fertilizers are obtained from local input suppliers and are based on quantities of product applied. You can see in Table 1 that we apply 1 ton of lime (100 percent effective calcium carbonate equivalent, or ECCE) per acre every third year. This is also a function of soil health as reflected by soil pH.

Also, like many producers, we have issues with armyworm and grasshoppers but not every year. Our long-term records show we experience insect issues every other year, so we have included costs in our budgets to reflect this issue.

We have purposefully excluded expected revenues with our two budgets because our goal here isn't to compare and make recommendations about which establishment method to use on your farm. Each farm has different crops and acreages as well as different sizes, colors, ages and values of tractors, tillage equipment and seed drills. Provided here is information about how we establish cool-season forage for our stocker cattle trials and how we budget expected costs associated with those establishment activities. Whether you use no-till or reduced-till, we encourage you to soil sample, pay attention to soil nutrient needs and pH levels, and develop budgets that reflect your establishment activities.

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