Soil and Forage Focus in Tough Economic Times

Soil and Forage Focus in Tough Economic Times

When it comes to forage crop production on dairies, input costs (i.e., fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, labor) are a large annual expense. In this difficult economic dairy climate, what can you do to help maximize your returns? Cutting your expenses is an obvious one, however, it is important to consider where and where not to cut back on crop production inputs.

To minimize crop production and financial risk, it is important to follow sound agronomic practices backed by research. Below are five important soil and crop management practices that are proven to reduce crop production risk while increasing return on investment and efficiency.

Soil Management

1. Soil test, don’t guess. The cost of a soil test is inexpensive compared to applying fertilizer you don’t need or not applying fertilizer that you do need.

2. Apply manure at recommended rates based on its nutrient content and follow Land Grant University guidelines. The P and K in manure can be replaced for fertilizer P and K on a 1:1 basis. Manure has most all of the micronutrients you need. Incorporate manure whenever possible to capture more ammonia-nitrogen and reduce runoff losses.

3. Apply nitrogen on cool season grasses at green-up. Applying 70-80 lb N/ac at green-up can double yields and dramatically increase crude protein content. Increasing your inventory of high quality forage is money well spent.

4. Use starter fertilizer for corn only where you need it based on a soil test. This is not the year to apply the same rate of starter fertilizer on all of your corn ground! If you have soils testing >40 lb/ac of P (Morgan test) do not apply starter P. The chances of getting a yield response from additional P are extremely low. For high and optimum P fields, consider applying needed P from manure and just use a small amount of starter N.

5. Use PSNT soil tests prior to sidedressing corn with N. You can’t afford to guess how much N to apply to your corn fields this year. PSNTs are not perfect, but they help determine whether you need additional N or not.

Forage Crop Management

1. Harvest hay crop and corn silage at peak quality. This is the most critical factor you can control to increase you return on investment. Harvest grasses at the boot stage, alfalfa at bud stage. Monitor dry matter content of forages and aim for 32-35% dry matter for hay crop and corn silage.

2. Consider no-tilling corn on better drained ground or after a hay crop. While no-till can be tricky, if you have the right planter setup and soil conditions, it can be done successfully. A small yield reduction could be offset by lower fuel and labor costs.

3. Plant corn in the right soil conditions. Avoid planting if soils are still cold and particularly if they are wet. Compaction and/or chilling injury can offset the potential yield advantage of planting early.

4. Take forage samples to assess quality and work with a nutritionist before feeding. It is important to make the most of your forages to maximize milk production potential while minimizing the amount of purchased feed you may need.

5. Take the time to pack bunk silos sufficiently and cover well. Proper packing is only achievable if the crop is harvested at the right moisture level. This will minimize nutrient losses and optimize quality of harvested forages.

Wyatt Bechtel
Thu, 05/03/2018 – 07:51



News Article
Image Caption
Pennsylvania is now making on-farm inspections to ensure manure management plans are in place.

Source: Dairy Herd