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Efficient Use of Pasture Nutrients

Efficient Use of Pasture Nutrients

by Doug Spencer, Rangeland Management Specialist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Marion, Kansas

High priced fertilizer is a continuing hot topic this year with nitrogen at the time of this article being priced around $0.65 per pound. It is making many producers question whether it’s worth spreading fertilizer on their pastures at these high prices. I will let the economists give you suggestions on that topic. Instead of concentrating on how overpriced fertilizer is and whether it is worth spreading, I would like to concentrate on ways to better manage and utilize the nutrients that are present or needed in your pasture.

Have you ever been lost and needed directions? Some find it hard to stop and ask for help and instead waste time and money driving around to find their destination. The same misuse of time and money occurs with managing our pasture nutrients by not knowing the available nutrient balance in a field. Many producers still rely on “rule of thumb” fertilizer mixtures that are not site-specific to the soil conditions or forage yields they desire. Soil types, haying and grazing use, and historical fertilizer and/or manure applications all affect the amount of nutrients that are needed by your current forage crop.

Knowing where your nutrient investment will do the most good can greatly increase the return on your fertilizer dollar. Your first step should be to soil test and find out where you are regarding nutrients that are present or lacking in your soil. The second is to know your forage production goal so you can get directions for proper nutrient application. If it has been more than three years since your last soil test, plan on obtaining one this year. Your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), County Extension office, or CO-OP typically have access to soil test procedures that will help you take a representative soil sample as well as provide you information on soil test labs where samples can be sent. Follow lab procedures for sampling and be sure to correctly label your samples. The fertilizer savings from a couple of acres due to fine-tuning application rates could easily pay for the soil test. Don’t guess, soil test!

If you would like assistance with nutrient and/or pasture management or to learn more about natural resources conservation, contact the NRCS or conservation district office located at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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