Cattle grazing on a fall pastureFall is a great time to evaluate  the condition of your cool-season pastures and apply fertilizer as needed. According  to Southern States Agronomist Ken Sechler, "Studies performed by virtually all  the university forage production experts show that fall fertilization of cool  season grasses (i.e. orchardgrass, bluegrass, fescue and rye) feeds the root  system and crown base of these plants." Fall fertilization will increase  tillering, shoot branching, winter survival and overall plant density per square foot. Although it may seem counter intuitive to fertilize a plant that  is hardly growing in the fall, the result will be a more robust plant that is  producing higher amounts of forage when spring and summer arrive.

Before you run to your nearest Southern States to pick up fertilizer, you first need to test your pasture soil.  In order to apply the appropriate fertilizer you must know what nutrient levels (nitrogen, phosphate  and potassium) are present in the soil. You also need to know the pH of  the soil for appropriate lime application. Let your soil tell you what it needs to produce the highest yields and best quality  forage it can.

To test your soil, use a spade or  auger and probe your soil to a depth of six inches. When sampling pastures try  to avoid areas near manure piles, fence lines, water sources, mineral feeders  and hay bales as these areas will have excess nutrient build up. "Walk in a  random zigzag pattern throughout your pasture to get a representative sample group," suggests Southern States Agronomist David Jessee. Your local Southern States store can help you find a reputable lab source for your samples. "We  also accept soil samples to make fertilizer and lime recommendations," adds Jessee.

Once you have your test results, fertilize your pastures to attain sufficient nutrient levels to meet your yield  goals. "A pasture should be capable of producing two to three tons per acre of forage annually, if managed correctly (not overgrazed)," explains Sechler. Generally, phosphate and potassium levels will become self sustaining if animals are grazing continually on the pasture as nutrients from their manure will return  to the field.

Nitrogen recommendations will also come from your soil testing. These are based on estimated release of  nitrogen from organic matter, prior year fertilization history, nutrient and  manure management. "Mixed grass/legume stands usually require less applied nitrogen as the legume's nitrogen fixing nodules continually release nitrogen into the soil as these nodules slough-off and decay throughout the year," explains Sechler. "A pasture mixture with 40% or more legumes may meet most its  annual nitrogen needs through legume companions of white and red clovers."

The time spent fertilizing your pastures this fall will result in quicker, more vigorous pasture growth next spring. Are you ready to plan your fall fertilization strategy? Call us 864-972-8900 to address any questions you may have.