nitrogen fertilization on a grass hay pasturegreenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread
Last year I moved onto my new digs around june. We learned that the property had not been fertilized in years. The hay we harvested was awful.
So, now is the time to do the fertilization.
Normally, I want to stick to strictly organic techniques. I would avoid using a chemical fertilizer because it may damage the microbial and macrobial life in the soil. But on examining the "soil", it more closely resembles cement than soil. A soil test last August came back with almost zero nitrogen and excesses of phosphorus and potassium.
It seems that whatever I put on it should be a pure nitrogen.
Before getting this acreage, I would get a couple of sacks of lawn fertilizer, or maybe some blood meal. I could fertilize my lawn or garden and I had pretty good ideas of how much to use.
But now I have about 35 acres of grass to feed. It seems that I should put a little more forethought into this.
How many pounds of nitrogen per acre would be good?
What can I expect to pay for this if I go the chemical route? If I'm going to apply it myself, what would I use? I have access to a broadcast spreader that can hook up to my 3-point hitch.
I've been thinking of some of the fish meals, blood meals and feather meals. But again, I would need an idea of how many pounds/tons of this stuff I would need.
Anybody do this sort of thing before?
-- Paul Wheaton (email@example.com), March 12, 2002
Paul,, the soil test is supposed to tell you how much N per 1000'. Tha plants dont know the differance between organic and chemical fertilizer,, its the overuse that causes the problems. Whatever you use,, will have the ratings on it 40-0-0 , or whatever, its simple math at that pojnt to figure out how much of waterever your useing per 1000'
-- Stan (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 12, 2002.
Have you considered using green manure crops, http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/ccrop/? A spring green manure crop like alfalfa (a legume), would let you get your cuttings and then plow it under in the fall.
-- BC (email@example.com), March 12, 2002.
I'm not into the organic/non organic thing, I feel the grass will just see it as N. You want to control runoff, & you don't want to apply too much or too little - those are the important parts. Source isn't the big deal.
How is the ph of your soil? This can make a big difference, if too low you need lime, if too high not much you can do but replant with plants that do better in high ph.
Where are you located and what are you feeding? Up here in the north USA you can improve soil quite a bit with alfalfa, or grass/alfalfa mix, or grass/clover mixes. The alfalfa or clover fix their own N, plus a little extra (nodes on the roots make N from the air...) this can give you 40 lbs a year of N for the grasses. Depends what buyers want from you of course for hay.
The soil test should have included recomendations of how much to apply. In general, you would be looking for 60 - 100 lbs of actual N applied per acre. But that is a guess, the test should give you the right number. However, if you seed clover, those seedlings don't come up well with heavy N applications...
So, would you want to start over & reseed, work the N into the ground? Do you just want to spruce up the grass that's growing? Or would you want to get things growing better now, get things balanced, and then interseed some legumes (alfalfa, clover) in a year or two to help reduce the N needed?
You have some options there.
To help stir up the soil a little, you could have anyhdrous amonia applied - it is 82% N, at air pressure it is a gas so it needs to be injected into the soil with ripper arms every 3 feet or so. Would airiate (and make a bit rough?) your soil. And put the N down into the soil. This is typically the cheapest N to buy, but you need to rent the applicator, & probably have it custom done as it takes a bigger tractor & can be hazzardous to you - not a bad long-term chemical, but it loves water & sucks it out of your skin, eyes, lungs if you make a mistake.
Spreading dry on the surface will work, but you would hope for a good rain within a day of application or much of it will evaporate into the air. If you are applying a 10-0-0 for example, to get 100 lbs of N applied per acre, you would need to apply 1000 lbs per acre. A 40-0-0 would only need 250 lbs per acre. There are different dry formulations that won't evaporate as bad, etc. for broadcasting. I would talk to a fertilizer co about this.
-- paul (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 12, 2002.
I had two soil tests done. In the "north pasture" I have 2ppm of N, 68ppm P and 367ppm K. For the south pasture, I have 1/81/127.
I'm in eastern washington state. About a half hour north of Spokane. Zone 5 (maybe zone 4 because of my altitude).
Last summer I planted some green manure crops. They did very poorly. My guess is that it was due to low organic matter in the soil. A half acre of peas and a half acre of buckwheat. This was before I got the soil test results. They both germinated and then little two inch plants just sat there and did nothing more.
I have since brought in 100 tons of manure (with some straw mixed in) and added a few tons of straw and am composting it. I hope to add compost to patches of land to try and get some growth established. I'm a little worried about the compost adding too much P and K.
The pH tests I have done came up with 6.8 and 6.9. The soil tests say "5.9/6.0" and then say "buffer index" 6.8/6.8. What does "buffer index" mean?
I'm looking for a general plan for the hay fields. It sounds like 60 pounds per acre is what I should be shooting for.
I am planning on doing an acre of summer alfalfa, a half acre of beans and a half acre of peas. For those, I think just the compost will be enough. (and I'll innoculate these)
Rather than an instant release nitrogen, I would prefer something that does a slower release. What should I look for in this department?
-- Paul Wheaton (email@example.com), March 12, 2002.
As a slow nitrogen source might try sheet manure composting or planting: Dry beans, http://www.ianr.unl.edu/pubs/fieldcrops/g813.htm, are a legume with nodules on the roots containing bacteria that fix nitrogen for plant use. Commonly, dry bean fields contain a thirty- to fifty-pound gain in nitrogen after the crop is harvested.
This article on Corn and soybean responses to deep-band phosphorus and potassium (9/18/2000) Iowa State Univ., http://www.ent.iastate.edu/ipm/icm/2000/9-18- 2000/deepband.html may be helpful to explain what has gone on with the land in the past. Broadcast fertilization of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) is a popular and low-cost fertilizer application method (K rates ranging from 35 to 140 lb K2O/acre and P rates ranging from 28 to 120 lb P2O5/acre). A band application theoretically could further increase yield of row crops or reduce the optimum fertilization rate under some conditions. Concentrating these nutrients in bands could increase nutrient uptake in soils with unusually high capacity to fix P and K and when root growth is restricted by unfavorable soil conditions.
-- BC (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 12, 2002.
Why bother buying any thing? Call the local board stables [ horses] dairy barns and goat barns.Most horse boarding places have composted horse manure you can haul off for free. Spread a thin layer of this across your pastures and it will fertilize and improve soil at the same time.Also check your local fair at fair time as most manure is just carted off to the dumps now [ thats a sin]. Here in calif people are paying 200 a week to haul the manure to the dumps! Wish I had some land around here I would let people haul there manure here [ small dump charge] compost it for a year and sell it to all the yuppies and landscapers who are flocking to this area in droves.
-- kathy h (email@example.com), March 13, 2002.
Hairy vetch will put the nitrogen in the soil. I went to a field day at an organic farm last fall. They've been organic for over thirty years. In one year when the drought limited the corn growth they still excessive levels of nitrogen from the previous hairy vetch cover crop.
If your soil is rock hard, cover cropping and incorporating will raise the organic material content of the soil and loosen it up.
-- Darren (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 13, 2002.
A trip to your County Extension office might be in order but here are some thoughts.
1. 50 pounds of usable nitrogen might be good for a start...per acre. I am sure that your depleted land could stand more, but you may as well not over do the nitrogen too quickly.
2. You can use Urea as the source. Pellet urea should be available at your elevator and you should be able to get a spreader to go with it if you order over a ton. I don't know what Urea is worth this season so give a call. It may not be the best, but it won't add salts nor metals to your ground.
3. You can pull the cart over your land with a tractor or possibly your pickup iof it is 4 wheel drive and your ground is not too hilly...depending on the weight. Get advice from your extension or soil agent on the timing of the application as Urea easily converts to other forms of nitrogen, many of which can leave as a gas.
4. If you can afford it, get a hundred poounds or so of mixed legume seed...that which is appropriate for your area and have the elevator mix it in with the fertilizer. The urea will give you a nitrogen spike, but it will not do that much for nitriogen residual. you will make some nice hay and the growth will be way better than last year but it is a short term fix.
5. Now get a book on meadow and pasture management. Study the nitrogen cycle especially as it relates to other things and manage your ground for improvement. For example, if you feed the hay that you make to yor own animals, feed it on the meadows where you made the hay if you can. You will add back nitrogen in the waste as well as organic matter which will be useful in the holding of nitrogen in the future. If your legumes are well managed for, you will also have improving nitrogen levels as well as improved hay quality.
6. Even if you cut hay only once, mow the regrow often over the summer. This will add some nitrogen back and will do wonders for your organic matter.
7. If you have ready access to the fish meals and such, look at the % available nitrogen. If it is 20%, then you need to apply 250 pounds per acre to give you 50 pounds usable nitrogen. Things like feather meal will probably have a high % nitrogen but relatively little of it will be directly usable...but soil microbes can and will make some of it available over time.
I have user urea and some other nasty nitrogen salts and chicken manure from an egg farm and slurry manure from a dairy farm. I had all of the manures analyzed so that I knew roughly how much nitrogrn I was applying per acre. Eventually, my hay ground became nearly self renewing when ?i fed back on the meadows. I hated to sell hay becaus eit was minning my soil so bad. When I sold hay, I ether tried to bring in manure, or urea in a pinch, or if i fed any corn to the cattle, I would feed it in different locations on the frozen hay meadows to put nutrients back. Also, I bought hay some years as fertilizer...it is indirect but effective. If you want some readng on pasture and meadow management,let me know and I will get you some titles and authors.
-- Oscar H. Will III (email@example.com), March 13, 2002.
Sheet manure: We plan on doing some of that. But this question is focusing on the hay that we are needing to bale and feed to animals next winter. Feeding only legumes to our animals next winter could result in some horrible bloat problems.
band fertilizing: I think this has some interesting ideas. I have to wonder if this is geared more toward row crops than pasture though.
Manure: I hauled a hundred tons (literally) of manure onto the farm last fall. I'm currently composting it. This is a huge amount of work per pound of nitrogen. Granted, this is the best way to go long term, but for now we are looking at potassium levels that are way too high. That means to not get carried away with manure based composts (that are rich in potassium as well as nitrogen). For the organic approach, blood meal and feather meal looks like the best approach, but at a cost ten times higher than chemical approaches. While I do have great concern about using chemicals, I now realize that I don't have the time and money to go organic for all of my land right out of the gate. Maybe by the third or fourth year.
Hairy vetch: I have the hairy vetch seed and will be trying that in some patches. For the most part, it sounds like alfalfa beats hairy vetch, but there are times that hairy vetch is better.
1: 50 pounds of nitrogen sounds wise. On the smaller scales I have done in the past I have always been more comfortable with under fertilizing.
2: Urea is what I was thinking too. I didn't know that it was low in salts and metals. That's comforting. The trouble with urea is that it is a pretty fast release. The slower release I have seen is done with sulfur. But my pH is already a little low (which seems odd for the area) - but when combined with liming, maybe this could still be a good solution.
3: Gonna hit the extension office. I have a friend that is an extension agent about 150 miles away - she has offered excellent info, but the local info is going to be better I think. A local friend has given me info on a local agronomist (I never knew there was such a thing until today). This person also sells the chemical fertilizers ... As long as I'm on this topic: My local friend says that he fertilized 40 acres last year for about a thousand bucks. That included renting the spreader. And apparently fertilizer was pretty expensive last year.
4: this is interesting. Won't this waste a lot of legume seed? By this I mean: since the seed won't have soil on it, won't a lot of it germinate and die? My understanding is that this form of broadcast seeding has a very high rate of seed failure - around 90% to 95% failure. Is your experience different?
5: Do you have a particular book in mind? I have done a great deal of reading and it seems that most of these authors have pretty spectacular soils. I do plan on working in more legumes to my soil and have been doing a lot of research with non-bloating legumes. I have also been researching organic ways of preventing bloat while feeding bloating legumes.
6: I think this is very excellent advice. This is exactly what my extension agent suggested. I'm planning on fertilizing all of it and half of it I will cut without baling - just leave it there to try and add organic matter and nitrogen back into the soil.
7: My access to fish meals involves shipping. I'm about six to eight hours inland from Seattle. As for soil microbes, I'm pretty sure we're running on a deficiency of those. That is one of the things I hope to improve everywhere this year.
Titles and authors: That would be excellent. I have gone through all of Salatin's books (except the most recent) and have a couple of others. One point that Salatin makes that I think is contrary to what you suggest is that feeding out in the open is probably okay when it is really cold. But when the ground is squishy, this could create other problems.
I like what you are saying about using the urea only when you need to. And I like that your story has a happy ending: you no longer need the nitrogen as much as you once did. And that you think that selling hay means moving farm nutrients off of the farm and would need to be replaced. The guy that owned this property before me would sell nearly all of the hay from this property every year for 30 years. The result is that nearly all of the soil resembles a dirt/gravel/cement mix.
-- Paul Wheaton (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 13, 2002.
Paul, we "farm" 50 acres of orchard grass mix hayfields here organically, mostly because of the extreme high cost of any kind of fertilizer used. We had the soil tested as per our extension agent and it came back needing LIME big time!!! The nitrogen showing was low of course, but, the extension agent and my farming ancestors all said to lime the acreage and let nature take it's course. The fields are much improved now after the liming ( we used finely ground ag lime at the rate of 4 to 5 tons per acre) and the natural clovers and other natural legumes that fixate nitrogen are slowly taking the rightful presence and improving the soil as we speak.
On the second year after the liming, we no tilled in red clover and timothy to further improve the soil ( we rented the no till machine from the county ag agent), and we take off a cutting or two of hay from all fields each year, taking only one from the poorer fields. The really bad/poor sections we brush hog as needed to keep the noxious plants at bay while the desirable plants establish themselves.
You can work with nature and skip the chemical fertilizers if you aren't in a hurry and take your time to improve the fields with smart farming technique instead.
-- Annie Miller in SE OH (email@example.com), March 13, 2002.
The natural method is of course the best, but 35 acres is alot of cow poop. I use different blends each year, mainly depending on current cost. In a cheap year I get a better mix. This year I have already bought 12 ton of triple 17 . I'll apply at app. 200 lb per acre. Cost for the 12 tons on a prepay cash basis was about $2200 and some change. Bset way to build up the land is put more on than you take off. Haying and overgrazing is not doing that. You may have to let some crop just die back and rot into the soil for a time. It will get better over the years. I bought a 30 acre tract a few yrs back and thought I would have to disc and start from scratch. But I limed and fertilized and the grass was there just waiting to get some food. Had a wonderful stand. Been good eversince and the sulfer weeds just died out. I apply with a 5 ton pull behind I own. But here you can get a loaner from the supplier. Or have custom applied for about 2 dollars an acre. Your little rig will work, but bag product will be much more costly.
-- Don (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 13, 2002.
Annie: I think that a lot of lime is going to be part of the solution for me too. And I agree with working legumes into the pasture to help out with the long term nitrogen needs. I would guess that your area might be warmer and generally have better soil than here. I'm in a zone 4/5 and my soil is so poor, that horse manure from a year and a half ago is still sitting out in the field as if it were dropped there two weeks ago (there have been no horses in that pasture for 18 months). On top of that, the soil tests show virtually no nitrogen and I need to pull in a hay crop to feed my animals next winter. So I'm thinking I need to help nature a bit more. At least this year.
Don: Wow! $2200! $2 per acre sounds really cheap. How many acres is that for?
-- Paul Wheaton (email@example.com), March 13, 2002.
Sounds like you are on the right track.
Are there any fertilizer coops around you? Generally CENEX ag supply centers? They have all the equipment, & $2.00 an acre is the going price for application around here too - seems they will work with a 10 acre plot of land just fine - or 1000 if you have it. :)
I've heard of people mixing the fet & clover seed, but in my opinion would not work well. Clover does not like a lot of N, so it seems a person would have them fighting each other in the applicator & on the ground. :) Also, the fert will make the grass grow, & clover doesn't compete so well when it sprouts. Just kinda makes it tough for the clover all around. But, I know people who do it this way.
However, frost seeding can work well - just depends upon the weather patterns you hit.
-- paul (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 13, 2002.
Hi again Paul,
Nice set of answers and ideas. Let me try to respond to your responses in some additional way. I will try to figure out how to page back and forth to remember what you said.
1. I pulled about 4 tons per acre additional hay on the first cutting with that rate of roughly 100 pounds of urea per acre....I think my urea was about 46% as I recall.
2. urea is usually CON2H4 I think in formula although it is sometimes hydrated some I believe. I need to check that formula though it seems a bit fishy but that is what is in my head...this may be ag grade urea. The carbon in there is now perplexing me....oh no that is right. The formula is better expressed CO(NH2)2 I think. Anyway there are no nasty salts from the get go although you might get some conversion to nitrate but it is not like you are adding potassiium or sodium as in sodium nitrate salt...if you are acidic, liming will free up additional nitrogen I believe, however if nitrogen is currently the principal limiting soil nutrient then you will get a heck of a pop by adding some. Judicial use of urea did not impair my soil invertebrate population although heavy applications can do that.
3. I believe my urea bill was in the $8K range for forages and we used it on about a section of ground...640 acres. It is made from natural gas as I recall and so it ought not be too high right now. Anyway I might be off some here but that seems about right. It is not expensive and yes you ouoght to be able to do your 35 acres for under a grand cart included. Think about what you want though or need with regard to feeding or selling. You might be better off purchasing a thousand dollars worth of silage or other feed and using the left over nutrients as fertilizer.
4. Well, I think you make a valid point although I found that seed survived for several years in the fluff at the soil surface before it ever germinated. No I did not get pure stands by any stretch in the first year, but by year three in one field in particular, we had nearly a 25% stand of clovers of the varieties that I broadcast prior. I also let some of the legume go to seed each year and the king birrds and bobolinks and pheasants thanked me. I typically frost seeded thin areas myself. I only once did the thing with the urea and that was to put orchard grass/legume in a wheat field. We seeded as we fertilized the wheat. Worked OK and we grazed that field back to health in 3 years too. Really, when you get your organic matter levels up, you will have less moisture, PH and nutrient hassles in my experience...which includes South Dakota and Ohio with grazing. My Ohio soils were all forest soils but in three years we doubled our organic matter levels just by intensive grazing management. In the Dakotas oour topsoil was on average 8 feet thick and organic matter was not the issue.
5. Greener Pasture on Your Side of the Fence : Better Farming With Voisin Management-Intensive Grazing by Bill Murphy
Competition and Succession in Pastures by Philip G. Tow (Editor), Alec Lazenby (Editor)
The Evolving Science of Grassland Improvement by L. R. Humphreys
Quality Pasture : How to Create It, Manage It & Profit from It by Allan Nation
Soil Biota, Nutrient Cycling, and Farming Systems by M.G. Paoletti, W. Foissner, D. Coleman
For starters....there are many many other soil titles worth reading.
6. It works, it really does. Mow with a shredder mower though if you can (that which will not become hay). Smaller the pieces, the more easily they become part of the soil. You can even put fuel use and machine depreciation into the formula and it will still pencil out as pretty inexpensive fertilizer.
7. Get the organic matter going...the fauna will follow...
Regarding pugging of the meadows caused by feeding animals on wet meadows. Yes, you need to factor that into your formula. Still, I opted to feed on my higher drier meadows in the spring and of course on some of the pastures as well. I certainly ended up roughing up one meadow a bit, but we mowed a little slower and cut a little taller for one season and were fine. Fact is, the Bison tore the heck out of the prairie but they did not do it every day nor every year and the prairie came to depend on it. So with the hay, if you tear up some of the acres a bit, rotate it out of your hay ground for a year or two and graze it, or use it as an excuse to invest in some seed or whatever. Be flexible, as you can see, thirty years with no change was hell on your ground.
Other seeding techniques that I used regularly:
1. mix some seed in the mineral buckets...the animals will scarify it and plant it in a heap of moist steaming rich soil.
2. broadcast seed and then let your animals mob the area for a while to pack it in.
3. broadcast seed and pull a cultipacker over it
4. drill the seed
5. no till drill the seed
Methods 3 through 5 require a bit more investment in machinery...rent or borrow rather than own unless you are going into the planting business. I pretty much always had a bit of seed in every tractor tool box or my pocket. Where the bulls would play and tear up yesterday, I would put some interesting seed down today, etc.
Good luck with this project Paul. I believe that grassland management is about the most interesting and dynamic thing because you get to incorporate animal and plant ecology into the mix...and you can make some money while having fun too boot.
-- Oscar H. will III (email@example.com), March 13, 2002.