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Forage producers learn to improve their soil

Written by Allie Leitza
Riverton – On June 28, forage producers throughout the state gathered in Riverton to attend Forage Field Day held by the Wyoming Business Council. Producers were given the opportunity to meet with representatives from Greenline, Brown Company, Wyoming Ag Marketing, experts on production from the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University, as well as other producers.
    “I don’t know if this is a program we will have every year. It might be something we put together every other year. We will make that decision based on the needs of the producer,” said Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Manager Donn Randall.
Soil testing
    Among the individuals who were brought to Riverton as a source of information for the producer was Kelli Belden from the University of Wyoming Extension. Belden explained the ways to deal with the challenges of Wyoming soil through soil testing.  
    “Most of the time we are dealing with soils that are very alkaline in Wyoming,” said Belden.
    Belden also confirmed that there are some areas high in salt and sodium and very low in organic matter and fertility. She explained that some of the problems with low fertility are the ramifications of low organic matter.
    To get to the root of the problem, Belden suggests either whole field sampling or management unit sampling when choosing a testing method.
    “You need to have a plan before you go out to take the samples. Map it out before you go, so you get samples from all parts of the field,” said Belden.
    Another piece of advice given by Belden was to avoid feeding and watering areas, gates, corrals, old home sites, old roads and old field edges when collecting samples for the test.
    “When having your soil tested be sure to use a regional lab. Different states have different soil conditions. You want to make sure you get the most accurate results, and the most effective recommendations for improving the soil,” said Belden.
    When choosing labs, producers have the option to choose a lab that will return the results to the producers with recommendations to improve their soil. Using a lab that does not provide improvement options is a good choice for producers who have received such information in a prior test and are aware of their options, according to Belden. She also reported that university labs are conservative in the recommendations they provide to producers.
    “You know your land better than anyone else – make sure you share that with the lab. It helps us to know as much as possible. We do not have the opportunity to see your land. Your results will be more accurate if we have more knowledge of what we are working with,” said Belden.
    “My advice is to go with the most cost-effective option when considering tests, especially if you are aware of the problems in your soil,” said Belden.
Forage fertility
    Joining Belden in providing producers with information to help them improve their operations was Joe Brummer, forage specialist for Colorado State University Extension. Brummer presented the audience with information to consider in terms of forage fertility.
    “Getting that soil test is very important. I am not a believer that you should get a soil test every year, but if you are changing sites or going somewhere you haven’t had tested. Once you have that baseline, you should have it tested about every three years to monitor the soil,” said Brummer. “You need to make sure you have the proper fertility to be productive.”
    When discussing fertilization Brummer said there are two main considerations – the level of desired productivity and the role or amount of legumes in the mixture. He encouraged the producers to be very specific when thinking about each of the situations.
    “Fertilization is generally the surest, easiest and most economical way to increase production,” said Brummer.
    There are a few basic approaches to fertilization. To stimulate grass production, nitrogen can be applied to the field. Applying phosphorous will stimulate the production of legumes in a field. Brummer notes that one should only apply phosphorous if necessary. A combination of the two elements will help maintain a mixture of grasses and legumes.
    Brummer asked producers to consider a few things in terms of nitrogen fertilization, including other nutrient levels. Producers need to test the soil phosphorous levels of their fields, because the response of nitrogen can be affected by the levels of phosphorous, he said.
    “Virtually all perennial grass pastures are nitrogen deficient and will respond to nitrogen fertilization. Improved grass species such as orchard grass and smooth brome respond extremely well to additions of nitrogen,” said Brummer.
    He also mentioned the annual application of nitrogen and the potential for leaching and runoff when nitrogen is applied to the field improperly as drawbacks to nitrogen fertilization.
    The timing of nitrogen application is another aspect to consider. Brummer used a graph to emphasize that there is more potential for losses if the field is fertilized in the fall.
    “For maximum hay yields, do not apply in the fall if the hayfield will be grazed in the spring,” said Brummer.  
Spring application, according the graph, shows more consistent yields.
    “Fertilization will not only affect the yield of the grass plant, but it will increase the quality,” said Brummer.
    Allie Leitza is an intern with the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..