As a farmer or a rancher, you know the importance of having healthy soil.
Taking care of your soil is critical to the success of your agricultural endeavors, and one of the best tools producers have for improving soil health is their forage.
“Forages that are on the ground give your soil the right mix of nutrients to grow more,” said Daniel Boenkamp of Hillside Bison in Mountain Grove, Mo.
Understanding and properly structuring your forage program can help you achieve this on your farm.
Testing Your Soil
To understand what needs your soil has, it’s imperative that you conduct a soil test.
“Obtaining a quality soil sample is vital for receiving accurate nutrient recommendations for your field,” said Jill Scheidt, agronomy Specialist for MU Extension.
The Extension recommends that farmers and ranchers test their soil every three to five years to see what their soil test levels are.
“Farmers should have at least one sample per field or pasture,” Jill explained. “Ten to 20 cores of soil that are uniformly 6 to 8 inches deep, taken in a zigzag pattern across the field is recommended.”
You want to send as much soil as possible because soil labs do not test the nutrient levels of rock, grass or sticks. To gather soil samples, you’ll need a soil probe, a bucket, plastic bags and a permanent marker to label the bagged soil samples.
The composition of your soil and what nutrients it needs, you can decide which forages you want to plant.
For example, if your soil is in need of nitrogen (this is common), pick some legumes such as clover or forage soybeans to add to your forage program; legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria that grow in nodules on their roots. If your soil is heavily compacted, consider planting a cruciferous root crop like forage radishes.
“Radishes and turnips can break up the soil so it’s not as hard,” said Hickory Ridge Hunting Ranch Marketing Director Joshua Jones from Lamar, Okla., “Plus they add nutrients.”
You’ll also want to consider the goals of your forage and soil health program based on the results of your soil tests – this will help you determine whether you need to select annual or perennial forages.
Understanding the Benefits
While you might not notice a change in your soil from above ground right away when you implement a solid forage program, you can be sure that there is plenty of action going on below.
By making your soil health a priority, you can ensure lasting benefits on your farm, and know that your end product will be the best it can be.