The escalating price of nitrogen fertilizer doesn't just have farmers worried; scientists with Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service are also deeply concerned.
So concerned, that they are scheduling an April 18 workshop, "Surviving High Fertilizer and Fuel Costs" in Overton, said Dr. Gerald Evers, AgriLife Research forage management expert.
Nitrogen fertilizer prices have "gone through the roof," because of high natural gas prices, a decrease in the number of fertilizer plants, and increased demand worldwide, he said.
Small grain farmers have seen the price they receive for their crop rise along with fertilizer costs, but cattle producers, who need fertilizer for their pastures and forage crops, have not seen an increase in the price they receive for their product, Evers said.
In East Texas, the cornerstone of beef operations has been improved European varieties such as Coastal Bermudagrass, and more recently, Tifton 85. With proper fertility and soils management, these grasses are capable of supporting more animals per acre and vastly increased hay production compared to native grasses, he said.
But with nitrogen selling for 55 cents a pound last year, and now 70 cents a pound, beef producers are going to have to adjust their pasture fertility programs, Evers said.
"The objective of the conference, which will be held at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton , is to provide information to the producers to help them reduce fertilizer costs," Evers said. "With the increasing fertilizer costs and energy costs we are having to make adjustments in our livestock and pasture management."
What kind of adjustments?
"The main thing, we are going to have to find where our fertilizer dollar will bring back the largest return," he said. "We will be talking about soil fertility and soil fertilizer recommendations as well as soil pH, which is very critical to get good use of our fertilizer.
Producers should be prepared to live with lower forage production and reduced stocking rates, Evers said. But the alternative, to continue to do business as usual, is likely to be a money-losing proposition.
The conference will be held at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.
Dr. Vince Haby, AgriLife Research soil scientist, will talk about fertilization and liming. Dr. Ray Smith, AgriLife Research legume breeder, will discuss how clovers and other legumes can reduce the amount of commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, will review nutrient supplements needed by a cow herd when forage is of poor quality because of low soil fertility. Dr. Evers will explain how to lengthen the grazing season, thereby shortening the winter feeding period.
Dr. Monte Rouquette will talk about adjusting stocking rates and nutrient recycling.
"Over 90 percent of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potash that’s in the forage – that a cow eats – is actually excreted back on the soil in urine and feces," Evers said. "We need to make most of that and recycle those nutrients.
There are two ways the grazing season can be lengthened: by stockpiling and overseeding, he said.
"One, we can overseed with annual ryegrass and clovers in the fall and begin grazing five to six weeks earlier," he said.
Stockpiling entails growing a fall bermudagrass hay crop but not harvesting it.
"When we would begin to feed hay, instead we graze the standing hay crop," Evers said. Evers noted that AgriLife Researchers and AgriLife Extension specialists have researched all these techniques for years at the center, under actual East Texas conditions.
"All this information presented will be from research conducted here at the center in northeast Texas on our soils and in our climate," he said.
Registration for the conference will be $20 and will include a lunch meal. For more information contact Dr. Charles Long at 903-834-6191 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Overton center is located one mile from downtown Overton on State Highway 3053.
Maps and more detailed driving instructions can be found on the Internet at http://overton.tamu.edu/maps.htm .