Managing Pasture/Hay Fertilizer Rates in a Challenging Fertilizer Market

Feb 16, 2022

With fertilizer rates near all time highs across the key nutrients of N, P, K, and S, it becomes more difficult to make our fertilizer application needs fit within our budget. The knee jerk reaction may be to not use any fertilizer at all, but choosing to use no fertilizer at all will lead to other issues of reduced production, poor livestock performance, reduced rates of gain, etc. Depending on your stocking rates, it might also require you to purchase more hay/forage off the farm, which doesn’t tend to be as profitable as raising your own forage. While we know we probably can’t afford to put on zero fertilizer, there are ways that we can become more efficient with our fertilizer applications in pasture/hay ground to get the most response from our forage crop and help us get a better return on our fertilizer investment.  
  1. Know your removal.
    1. In general, a ton of grass or alfalfa hay removes around 35-40 lbs of Nitrogen, 12-14 lbs of P2O5, 45-50 lbs of K2O, and 5 lbs of sulfur per acre. Make sure you address each of them to prevent missing your key yield limiter.
  2. Keep nutrients in balance. A balanced N, P, K, S, Zn, and B application will likely produce better than nitrogen alone. A soil test and a discussion with your agronomist can help you invest wisely.
  3. Utilize a urease inhibitor (Anvol) to protect your nitrogen investment from volatilization and Avail to protect your phosphorous from becoming tied up in the soil and unavailable to your forage crop. At hay/pasture rates of fertilization, these cost very little per acre but allow you to get better efficiency of performance, especially when reducing your overall fertilizer rate.
  4. Incorporate legumes to reduce the nitrogen fertilizer demand of your grass forages.  
    1. With as little as 40% legume mix in your forage stand, you can supply enough nitrogen to feed all of your grass crop.
    2. As another benefit, the addition of a legume will also improve the levels of crude protein in your forage, leading to faster rates of gain and heavier animals to take to market.
  5. Evaluate your nitrogen fertilizer rate based on your stocking rates and needed forage production. If your stocking rates/forage needs are higher than average, then you may need to maintain your standard N fertilization rates. If your stocking rates are low, you might be able to get away with a somewhat reduced N rate this season.
Talk with your local UFC representative to create a fertility program for your pasture/hay acres.

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