Fertilizing bermudagrass pastures benefits livestock production by increasing the amount and quality of forage available. Fertilizer comes in many forms including organic and inorganic. While inorganic fertilizer is the most readily available, other organic fertilizers like chicken litter are also beneficial and add organic matter to soil. For years, many uninformed landowners applied nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium without knowing whether they needed it or not. After application, most saw crops and improved grass species improve in vigor and quality. The dark green flush of growth witnessed was likely attributable to nitrogen, and many did not realize the phosphorous and potassium may or may not have even been necessary. In the days when synthetic fertilizers were inexpensive, coupled with being cheap to ship and apply, farmers and ranchers applied liberal amounts at will. The days of cheap fertilizer, shipped and applied with cheap fuel, are over. Coupled with this, the days of applying liberal amounts of fertilizer without a soil test are also over.
It is more important than ever to focus on farm and ranch input costs, and fertilizer is no exception. In fact, fertilizer and fuel are two of the highest inputs on farms and ranches. Landowners today cannot afford to fertilize without first taking a good representative soil sample. If the results of a soil test show deficiency in one or more nutrients, these are then recommended. Often, soil tests will show nutrients existing in high amounts and that the application of these (commonly phosphorous and potassium) is unnecessary and not recommended. Because fertilizer prices are high, it is foolish and environmentally unfriendly to buy and apply excess or unneeded fertilizer. Although 2011 did not produce the rains Oklahomans are accustomed to, historically we have experienced major rainfall events. When the fast and furious rains fall, it is important to remember excess water must go somewhere. When it runs off, it may carry chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, soil and other pollutants. Some of this ends up in creeks, lakes and rivers. With many residents using water wells and rural or city water from lakes for drinking, it is important to focus on what and how much we fertilize.
Lakes around the U.S. are becoming tainted with excess nutrients. Two common nutrient sources are pasture and lawn fertilization. Many soils in Oklahoma hold adequate phosphorous and potassium; therefore sometimes it is unnecessary to apply these elements. Keep in mind, the green, lush growth everyone wants in their pastures comes from nitrogen. While nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are vital to plant life, buying all three in a fertilizer ration may be unnecessary. Ranchers, farmers and small landowners/homeowners, should take soil samples before buying or applying fertilizer. It may save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the process. If you don't need it, why buy it? Soil tests can be analyzed at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. The cost for a basic sample is a mere $10 and it takes a few weeks for the lab to return results. For more information about soil sampling visit the Cleveland County Extension website at oces.okstate.edu/cleveland.
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