Good management can be a tremendous asset if growers can’t afford to apply fertilizer, says John Jennings, University of Arkansas extension forage specialist. Start by inventorying your soil fertility and pasture conditions, then manage for those conditions, he advises. “Soil testing will help producers target fields where fertilizer will have the most impact and fields where not as much fertilizer is needed,” says Jennings. “Soil testing will also tell which fields may potentially be able to grow clovers and other legumes.”
He offers a five-step management plan for optimizing forage production in times of high fertilizer prices:
- “Manage better with what you’ve got,” he says. “Take advantage of rotational grazing, practice better weed control, manage in favor of strategies that can boost pastures.”
- Time grazing and haying to stockpile forages.
- Target fertilizer applications. “Don’t put all the fertilizer on at one time in the year, but spread it out and target specific acres for each season,” Jennings suggests. Produce just enough forage for that season and don’t create excess waste.
- “Use complimentary forages, such as ryegrass or wheat planted on bermudagrass, for example, or lespedeza on fescue so you get more forage out of that same acre during the year.” The goal is to have one forage growing when the other one is dormant.
- Add legumes anywhere that is suitable. “Legumes are a source of nitrogen fixation, so producers can get some good forage production without as much nitrogen fertilizer cost,” he says.