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As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yes, You Can Afford to Fertilize Your Pasture

There are a few conversations that I have a lot here lately with cow/calf producers. Number 1 is how low the cow and calf prices are and number 2 is how high fertilizer is, was and probably will be next year and lastly what do I need to do to my pastures for next year.
Let me start by saying there are 3 things I tell people to do to take care of bermudagrass pastures. Number 1 is to control grazing! Most producers have way too many cows and they have grazed the bermudagrass to the dirt. This causes compaction and opens up the canopy to allow weeds to grow. Number 2 is to control weeds next March or April. Many studies have proved that for every pound of weeds controlled you get one pound of grass with it going as high as 3-4 pounds of grass. Number 3 is to fertilize your pasture even if fertilizer is high because it pays $2 to $1!
As we end this dry year let me elaborate on the fertility part because fertilizer is so high it may not seem to be a bargain but if we want to raise plenty of beef cows then we need to grow lots of grass and the only way to do that is fertilize. Even though nitrogen fertilizer is high it is still a bargain when you consider the return in grass growth. Nitrogen fertilizers are terrific for increasing the efficiency of bermudagrass especially as it relates to water use. Numerous tests conducted throughout the south confirm that with fertilization it takes 16 to 20 inches of water to produce one ton of low quality forage. With adequate fertilization one ton of good forage can be produced on only 4 to 6 inches of water. This chart gives some sample results:
Tons of Forage per Year
Rainfall Inches Without Fertilizer With Fertilizer
30 1 - 1.5 5 - 7
35 1.5 - 2 7 - 8
40 2.0 8 - 10
45 2.5 10

Another chart shows how much hay can be produced by different rates of nitrogen fertilization. Again all of these tests were conducted over several years in several different locations so the results certainly apply here. Not only does bermudagrass use the water more efficiently but it also translates into higher quality.
Lbs./32%N fertilizer/Acre Yield in Tons % Protein
0 2.67 7.9
300 4.38 9.1
600 5.93 10.5
1200 8.59 11.7
1800 10.65 12.4

If we use liquid nitrogen at 32% N and a price of $570 per ton then 300#’s of fertilizer per acre is worth about $85 per acre, 600#’s is $170 and so on. Using this chart with 300#’s of fertilizer you get 1.7 more tons from an $85 of investment. If hay is $100 a ton then the 1.7 extra tons is worth $170, double the investment.
Let me leave you with a thought about where to spend your money next year, don’t waste fertilizer on poor land. What I would suggest is that you use your best land for growing and fertilizing bermudagrass so that when you do make this investment in fertilizer you will realize even more return than this chart shows. Control your grazing and use weed control on the poor land and spend most of your dollars on the good land.

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