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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.

Ever sat down and asked yourself why you are paying so much for nitrogen? It’s a good question and one that should be investigated. Why do you spend so many dollars when you could get it free? That’s right—FREE! Producers that incorporate legumes into their pasture system are doing just that. Through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, legumes are able to obtain all their needed nitrogen for plant growth from the air which is 78 percent nitrogen. When these legume plants are eaten by livestock and deposited as manure and urine or the plants die and decompose, the nitrogen that was fixed becomes available to other plants in the system. A forage fact note from Kansas State University, Manhattan, lists alfalfa, red clover, sweet clover, ladino clover, birdsfoot trefoil, and annual lespedeza as some of the possible legumes to interseed into your existing pastures. Visit your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or County Extension office for more information on characteristics of each legume and which one(s) may be best for your situation.

One key to establishing legumes in a pasture includes having optimum fertility for the legume species that are being seeded. The main areas of interest are pH, phosphorus, and potassium.

A second key to making legumes work is proper inoculation when seeding. Bacteria are host specific meaning you need to inoculate with the correct strain of bacteria or your legume may not create nodules and fix nitrogen.

Other considerations when introducing legumes include the proper seeding rate for the legume being seeded, correct method of seeding, being aware that some legumes can cause bloat, and proper grazing management to maintain the legumes in the mixed stand and to allow some legumes to reseed. If your fertilizer bill is causing a state of gloom, it may be time to plant a legume.

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 offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

This article is also available in Microsoft Word format.

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