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Fertilizing Pasture in the Fall

Fall is a great time to evaluate the condition of your cool-season pastures and apply fertilizer as needed. According to Southern States Agronomist Ken Sechler, "Studies performed by virtually all the university forage production experts show that fall fertilization of cool season grasses (i.e. orchardgrass, bluegrass, fescue and rye) feeds the root system and crown base of these plants." Fall fertilization will increase tillering, shoot branching, winter survival and overall plant density per square foot. Although it may seem counter intuitive to fertilize a plant that is hardly growing in the fall, the result will be a more robust plant that is producing higher amounts of forage when spring and summer arrive.

Before you run to your nearest Southern States to pick up fertilizer, you first need to test your pasture soil. In order to apply the appropriate fertilizer you must know what nutrient levels (nitrogen, phosphate and potassium) are present in the soil. You also need to know the pH of the soil for appropriate lime application. Let your soil tell you what it needs to produce the highest yields and best quality forage it can.

To test your soil, use a spade or auger and probe your soil to a depth of six inches. When sampling pastures try to avoid areas near manure piles, fence lines, water sources, mineral feeders and hay bales as these areas will have excess nutrient build up. "Walk in a random zigzag pattern throughout your pasture to get a representative sample group," suggests Southern States Agronomist David Jessee. Your local Southern States store can help you find a reputable lab source for your samples. "We also accept soil samples to make fertilizer and lime recommendations," adds Jessee.

Once you have your test results, fertilize your pastures to attain sufficient nutrient levels to meet your yield goals. "A pasture should be capable of producing two to three tons per acre of forage annually, if managed correctly (not overgrazed)," explains Sechler. Generally, phosphate and potassium levels will become self sustaining if animals are grazing continually on the pasture as nutrients from their manure will return to the field.

Nitrogen recommendations will also come from your soil testing. These are based on estimated release of nitrogen from organic matter, prior year fertilization history, nutrient and manure management. "Mixed grass/legume stands usually require less applied nitrogen as the legume's nitrogen fixing nodules continually release nitrogen into the soil as these nodules slough-off and decay throughout the year," explains Sechler. "A pasture mixture with 40% or more legumes may meet most its annual nitrogen needs through legume companions of white and red clovers."

The time spent fertilizing your pastures this fall will result in quicker, more vigorous pasture growth next spring. Are you ready to plan your fall fertilization strategy? To speak to one of our agronomists or livestock specialists in your area find your local Southern States store.

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