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It’s not too early to think about pastures and hay fields

By Morgan Watts

Rowan Cooperative Extension

With it being February and the weather being warm, I am getting multiple calls about fertilizing pastures and hay fields.

I am sure this warmer weather has everyone itching for spring and summer. Here are a few things to consider this time of year in regard to hay fields and pastures.

It is estimated that a cool season perennial grass will remove 15 pounds of phosphate per ton of hay and 45 pounds of potash per ton of hay from the soil.

Hay fields will lose these nutrients every year and if you want to maximize yields, you need to replenish them. The general recommendation for nitrogen is 40 pounds of nitrogen per ton of expected yield per acre.

Thus, if you expect to average two tons of dry matter per acre in the spring hay harvest, you would be removing 80 pounds of nitrogen, 30 pounds of phosphorus, and 90 pounds of potassium. So, how do you know if your fertilizers meet the needs of your hay crop?

The answer is they might not. But, you won’t know this without doing a soil test. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make these management decisions. As a side note, the NCDA lab does not test for nitrogen; they only give the recommended amount based on the crop you are growing.

For an accurate nitrogen number, I suggest submitting a tissue sample. Not only do you get your results faster, it gives a better nitrogen representation. Also, don’t forget we are still in the window for the $4 per sample charge for soil tests.

Along with fertilizer, I am also getting calls on weed control. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start walking your pastures and hay fields in search of winter broadleaf weeds. Examples of these are yellow buttercup, chickweed, hen bit, purple deadnettle, dandelion, thistle and plantain.

These weeds can reduce forage stands and take up spring nitrogen applications meant for forage growth. To control these weeds, timely applications are important. If you wait to see yellow flowers everywhere in your pasture, you are too late to control Buttercup. Learn to identify these weeds in the early stage of growth so that you can ensure better control when applying chemicals.

Herbicide applications should be done when weeds are smaller and weather conditions are favorable (three days of daytime highs in the 60s). These will decrease the amount of herbicide needed and will ensure greater efficacy of the herbicide and better economic returns.

There are several options on the market to help control winter broadleaf weeds in grass pastures. However, legumes such as clovers interspersed with grass pastures can be severely injured or killed by certain herbicide products, so keep that in mind.

As always, make sure you read the label before applying to make sure it will work in your operation. If you need help identifying a certain weed or a herbicide recommendation, feel free to give us a call.

If you have any questions about soil reports, tissue sampling, or weeds, give me a call at the office, 704-216-8970. You can also send me an email to morgan_watts@ncsu.edu

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