Beef Cattle Producers Advised to get Soil Test, Save on Input Costs

US - A Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service soil fertility expert advised beef producers to get a soil test as residual nutrients from previous fertilizer applications may still be in reserve.
calendar icon 20 September 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

“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.”

Dr 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 production.”

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 quality.

“A soil test allows us to credit any carryover fertilizer due to the drought and can save producers a significant amount of money,” Dr McFarland said.

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, Dr 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, Dr 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.”

Dr McFarland said soil sample forms and other information related to forage fertility are available online at

“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.”

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