Beef cattle producers advised to get soil test, save on input costs
“We are still facing drought conditions as we did last year, and if
producers applied fertilizer last year or this year, they didn’t grow
much of a forage crop,” said Dr. Mark McFarland, AgriLife Extension
state soil fertility specialist in College Station, at the recent Beef
and Forage Expo in Bryan. “As a result, there can be a substantial
amount of that fertilizer remaining in the soil for next year.”
McFarland said to be certain, producers are advised to soil test each field they plan to fertilize.
“Fertilizer prices remain very high,” he said. “We are looking at 50
cents to 70 cents per pound of nutrient for nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium. It is a significant part of the overall input cost for forage
A soil test is a “tried and tested method” for determining the correct
fertilizer product and rate of application, he said. Applying
unnecessary nutrients is expensive and does not improve forage yield or
“A soil test allows us to credit any carryover fertilizer due to the
drought and can save producers a significant amount of money,” McFarland
In areas where soil acidity is a concern, soil testing should be done in
late fall so that limestone, if needed, can be applied and allowed to
react and increase pH by next year. In other areas, soil testing for
warm-season forage production should be done in winter or early spring.
Meanwhile, McFarland also discussed alternative fertilizers for
producers to consider. There are several viable options, including
livestock manures, poultry litter, composts and municipal biosolids.
Producers should request a nutrient analysis for any product they are
considering and compare the cost to standard fertilizer on a
pound-of-nutrient basis, McFarland said.
“Good quality poultry litter may be worth $62 or more per ton,” he said.
“But you also will need a good soil test to determine if an alternative
fertilizer has a nutrient content that is an economical fit for a
particular hayfield or pasture.”
McFarland also said to consider delivery and spreading of products as well.
“Hauling and spreading costs are extremely high, so you also need to consider those in any product comparison.”
McFarland said soil sample forms and other information related to forage fertility are available online at http://soilcrop.tamu.edu.
“There you will find detailed information that will assist your forage
production program,” he said. “Another good source is the AgriLife
Extension agent in your county. They are a great resource if you have
questions on how to respond to the drought.”