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franklin county times

Producing quality forages for livestock

By By Lance Bruce / 4-H livestock agent
June 9, 2004
Soil testing is probably one of the easiest tools to help a farmer or rancher to produce quality forages for a reduced cost.
By testing the soil where cattle graze or hay is harvested, a producer will have the upper hand by knowing what the soil needs to produce a quality product.
Mississippi pastures are going to require fertilizer to produce quality forages. But the key is to know how much they need of the three basic fertilizers: phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen.
Phosphorus is generally low in Mississippi soils unless it has been applied as fertilizer, previously. It doesn't readily leach from the soil profile, so in grazing situations it can be easily maintained or even accumulate. This is especially true in clay-type soils where leaching is very slow.
Potassium is needed typically in large amounts by forages, as much as 5 to 10 times more than phosphorus. Adequate potassium is needed by forage plants to maintain strength through the winter. Potassium leaches very slowly from the soil profile, but is used in such great quantities by forages that it will need to be replaced on a timely basis.
Nitrogen is the most commonly used fertilizer of the three elements. Nitrogen is responsible for rapid vegetative growth in favorable growing conditions. Nitrogen increases the protein and vitamin A content, energy, and total digestible nutrients. During poor growing conditions such as a drought, nitrogen uptake is slowed. When these conditions are present, toxic levels of nitrate can build up causing a risk to livestock. Proper management can help to avoid this problem.
One of the most overlooked tools of forage production is lime. Lime applications help raise the pH level of the soil. Typically in Mississippi, soils are acidic meaning they have a pH level less than 7.
When the pH level begins to fall below 5.5, you should get concerned. Dolmetic limestone is generally used for two reasons. First the calcium needed to raise the pH and for the magnesium that is usually lacking in acidic soils. Lime will also help increase fertilizer utilization and yields.
Soil tests are a valuable management tool that can help boost yields and save you money at the same time. To find out more information on soil testing or fertilizing recommendations, contact the Lauderdale County Extension Office at 482-9764.

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