Tasks to take on now to get fields ready for warmer weather 

The first signs of spring have arrived. Warmer days and sprigs of green grass point to the growing season on the horizon. While producers wait for the full arrival of spring, it’s time for some pasture maintenance. 

Shrewd Fertilizing 

High fertilizer prices can take a big chunk out of a producer’s budget. Therefore, producers planning to fertilize their fields may want to consider strategies to ensure they are getting the most benefit for their money. “There is no reason to fertilize a field with nutrients that are not needed,” Tim Schnakenberg, field specialist in agronomy with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “Yet, farmers and ranchers who put a standard ratio of fertilizer on the same ground year after year are gambling and often miss opportunities to have positive impacts on forage production.” 

Extension forage specialists recommend producers utilize soil test results to guide their decisions on the proper fertilizer blend. Following a soil test for each field is the only way for producers to know the specific phosphate, potash, and lime needs for that field. “It pays to have a prescription recommendation for each field instead of guessing with fertilizer blends that only have a shotgun effect on fertilizing,” Schnakenberg added. 

It’s not too late to get a soil sample submitted and to use those results for the next three to four years to implement a more precise fertility approach to farming.

Nitrogen Application

For producers planning to add nitrogen to fields with cool season stands, the nitrogen should be applied anytime from late February through April. “The earlier the better for maximum growth such as for hay fields, however, if it is needed on pasture, nitrogen can be staggered in various fields later during the spring following grazing,” Schnakenberg stated.

Nitrogen application may be needed on farms with a high stocking density. However, if the farm has a low or moderate stocking density, additional nitrogen may not be necessary. “Usually, the biggest bang for the buck on nitrogen will happen in August for fall growth,” Schnakenberg shared. “Spring nitrogen often just propels grass growth faster and in some cases we won’t have enough cattle on the place to fully utilize it all.”

Evaluation of Stands

 Due to last year’s drought, forage specialists advise producers to evaluate their stands this spring to make sure there is enough grass for the season. This would include developing a short-term and long-term plan for thickening the stand. “Our stands are open enough that weeds will likely be a severe problem in 2023, occupying space that should have forage in them,” Schnakenberg said. 

Instead of trying to establish a permanent stand of tall fescue or orchardgrass in the spring, which may not survive the summer, experts recommend choosing an alternative. This year some producers have used forages such as turnips, annual ryegrass, clover or spring oats to get by. Another alternative producers may want to try is adding forage crabgrass and lespedeza. Those two forages will come up in time to fill gaps in the summer.

For producers with very thin stands of permanent grass, another option would be to drill in summer annuals such as sorghum sudangrasses or millets in mid-May to help stretch the for-age through the summer months. “Once we get through the summer, we are hopeful that we can have a less droughty fall where we can plant tall fescue and/or orchardgrass back in our stands around early September,” Schnakenberg stated. “If there is excess crabgrass or foxtail in fields, we may have to delay planting to when cooler weather starts to taper off their growth in the fall.”


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