Escalating unrest in the Middle East is not only going to continue to drive gasoline and diesel fuel prices up to 2008 levels, but there’s a good chance it will do the same to the costs of fertilizing pastures, according to a Texas AgriLife Research expert.

Even if it doesn’t further contribute to rising fertilizer costs, they’re high enough already that livestock producers “absolutely must learn to better manage nitrogen applications to stay in business,” said Dr. Monte Rouquette, AgriLife Research forage scientist.

Rouquette is one of the instructors at the upcoming Pasture and Livestock Management Workshop, a 2 ½ day course set March 29 -31 at theTexas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.

The course has always been about helping both novice and experienced producers how to better manage inputs and utilize forage resources. Now, with fertilizer costs rising again, it’s more critical than ever for those in the cow/calf business to “fine-tune livestock production inputs and management skills from the grass roots up,” he said.

“The cost of ammonium nitrate today is $460 per ton, or about 68 cents per pound,” Rouquette said. “Last year about this time it was 53 cents per pound.”

For the last six to 10 years, fertilizer costs have been rising, he said. The prices relaxed somewhat in the last three years from 2008 when they reached 70 to 75 cents per pound. But even before the Middle East meltdown, prices had been steadily climbing.

Though nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas, all fuel prices are linked, he explained, so the increase in one leads to a rise in others. There’s also the associated cost of transporting and applying fertilizer as the cost of diesel rises.

This all could mean that cow/calf and other livestock producers will have to drastically rethink their production strategies as all the modern, improved warm-season grasses are big users of nitrogen.

“We are revisiting the dilemma of the price of fertilizer becoming a major constraint on pasture use, and that would indicate that if managers don’t have efficient cattle that have sales value — as well as a plan for utilization of the forage that is produced — then fertilizers may windup on the endangered list,” Rouquette said.

Dealing with these issues and others will be a major thrust of the grazing school, he said.

“Even in better economic times, we’ve heard enrollees say time and time again that what they’ve learned in the first morning saved them many times over the cost of the course,” he said.

Registration for the course is $350 per person. The fee includes breakfast and break refreshments along with two noon and evening barbeque and ribeye steak meals.

Enrollment is limited to 60 individuals. The limitation on class size allows workshop attendees to have plenty of time to visit one-on-one with AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension faculty to discuss specific aspects of their operations, he said. As of March 1, 51 had already registered.

All instructors are scientists and educators with AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Serviceand Texas A&M Univeristy. All hold doctorate degrees related to their area of instruction. The courses will be held at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.

Workshop instruction is divided between the classroom and the field. In-field demonstrations cover all aspects of running a beef operation, including establishing and maintaining high-quality forages, calibrating sprayers, taking soil samples, castrating and vaccinating cattle, and dehorning calves, Rouquette said.

A full agenda can be found athttp://overton.tamu.edu/beef_cattle/grazing_school/grazingschool.php .

To register or for more information, contact Jennifer Lloyd at 903-834-6191 orjllloyd@ag.tamu.edu. Lloyd will have information on class openings, local accommodations and driving directions to the center, Rouquette said. 

Robert Burns is a writer for Texas AgriLife.