Winter can be fairly slow regarding soil and crops issues, so Noble Foundation soil and crops specialist Eddie Funderburg suggests producers take time to reflect on the previous year and plan for the coming one.
“You've probably noticed that fertilizer prices are up a bit — well, maybe more than a bit,” Funderburg says. “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,” he says. “The only way you will know either of these things is to take good soil samples.”
To determine if you have residual nitrogen in the soil, you will need to collect both 0- to 6-inch and 6-inch to 12-inch soil samples.
Prioritize where to spend fertilizer money. Should a small amount be applied over the entire place, or should more be put in some fields while others are neglected? Should the best ground be fertilized heavily, or should the less productive land be fertilized to make it produce more like the best land?
“Our feeling is that you're better off fertilizing the most productive ground you have first,” Funderburg says.
It's more productive for a reason, such as soil depth, water holding capacity, soil chemistry, etc. Such land has a greater probability of converting the fertilizer to grass or crops than less-productive land, which 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,” he says.
Another consideration is where to apply herbicides if money is tight. Assuming fairly equal weed pressure, use herbicide on fertilized fields before using it on unfertilized fields.
“If you don't control the weeds, they will respond to fertilizer like desirable plants and use a lot of the nutrients,” Funderburg says. “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.”
Taking time now to plan where to concentrate fertilizer and herbicide inputs can save time and money in the spring.
The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Inc., headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is a nonprofit organization conducting agricultural, forage improvement and plant biology research; assisting farmers and ranchers through educational and consultative agricultural programs; and providing grants to nonprofit charitable, educational and health organizations. firstname.lastname@example.org