Yes, You Can Afford to Fertilize Your Pasture

Post date: Apr 23, 2012 5:33:40 PM

There are a few conversations that I have a lot with cow/calf producers. Number 1 is how low the cow and calf prices are (they are never high enough!) and number 2 is how high fertilizer is, was and probably will be and number 3 what do I need to do to my pastures. 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 grasses to the dirt. This causes compaction and opens up the canopy to allow weeds to grow. Number 2 is to control weeds in 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 every $1 spent!

As we end another 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 most grasses especially bermudagrass as it relates to water use. Numerous tests conducted throughout the south confirm that without 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, don’t waste fertilizer on poor land. What I would suggest is that you use your best land for growing and fertilizing good grass 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 fertilizer dollars on the good land.