Applying soil and crop nutrients to pastures in the fall will get you the most bang for your buck.
Livestock producers in much of the Southeastern U.S. have the good fortune of being able to grow abundant quantities of high-quality forages almost year round.
But as with most things of value, this benefit comes with a cost. To produce these forages, you need to make sure all of the essential soil and plant nutrients are available when needed.
Fall is the ideal time to take inventory of what your crop is going to require, advises Charles Hubbard, a regional agronomist for Southern States at Glen Allen, Va. It’s also the best time to apply lime, as well as phosphorus, potash and at least some nitrogen. That helps ensure the best results, and it saves both time and money.
“It takes about six months for limestone to become active in the soil,” Hubbard explains. “A late-summer/early fall application ensures that the pH, which measures acidity or alkalinity, will be correct and that the nutrients will be there in time for the big flush of forage growth next spring.”
You want to apply only as much as your forage crop can use efficiently. To find out what is needed, Hubbard recommends a soil test at least every two years.
Your Southern States dealer can provide the tools and information you need to take a representative soil sample. He also can recommend where to send the sample for analysis (either to a land-grant university or an independent lab).
Then, when you get the test results back, your dealer can help map out a complete program of which nutrients you need to apply, at what rates and at what time.
As your tests will likely show, most fertility programs for Southeastern soils must begin with applications of agricultural limestone. Hubbard says the soils in this humid region tend to be acidic, with a pH of 6 or less. Most forages require a pH of 6 to 6.5 to do well, especially if they include a legume.
What’s the benefit of liming? Hubbard lists the following reasons to apply lime:
- It corrects soil acidity, raising pH.
- It increases soil microbial activity, which speeds decay of organic matter and releases plant nutrients that may be tied up in stover and roots of the previous crop.
- It supplies calcium or magnesium.
- It increases availability of residual and applied phosphorus.
- It increases fixation of nitrogen by soil and plant organisms.
- It improves the physical properties of soil.
- It reduces activity of inorganic substances in the soil, thereby preventing toxicity from aluminum and manganese.
- It improves weed control with some herbicides.
Hubbard also notes that a key reason for fall fertilization is that conditions are often better suited for application in fall than they are in the spring. Also, some types of fertilizer may be more economical in the fall because of less demand. And dealers have more time and equipment in the fall for custom application.