The high price of fertilizer will make many farmers pay closer attention to production costs this spring. Mark McFarland, Texas Cooperative Extension soil fertility specialist, advises producers to run a soil test before spending too much on unnecessary fertilizer.

“The most important thing affecting growers this year is the increase in fertilizer prices,” he says. “The cost of energy translates into production issues. Growers have to be lot more conscious of that in establishing a nutrient management plan for the year.”

A soil test will help identify deficient nutrients and establish rates that will give producers the best chance for higher yields, McFarland says.

Farmers in the Blacklands region heard McFarland's advice at the recent Blackland Income Growth Conference.

Lack of rainfall, coupled with the high price of fertilizer, will make many producers watch output costs closely, McFarland says.

“What will be important to look at carefully this year is yield potential,” he says. “We often in best years look at corn yields in the 120 bushel to 150 bushel (per acre) range. But more often than not, that could be falling in the 100 bushel per acre (range). If we use that as more of our guidance (we should) apply inputs like fertilizer consistent with a true yield potential. If we do that, we can still maintain economic viability.”

Alternatives to traditional fertilizer include poultry litter and dairy manure, McFarland says.

“Even municipal bio-solids could be considered,” he says. “Growers can look at all of these, along with a soil test, in trying to factor them into a production system that will keep them economically viable.”

For soil testing information, go to http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/