Extension News

Improving our pastures, one soil test at a time
Sep. 18, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Recently I have received numerous calls regarding various methods to improve the overall quality of pasture fields. While this year has been great for growing quality pastures, many fields took a hard hit during last year’s drought and are still in the recuperating phases. 

Proper management of your pastures is key in improving the quality of our grasses and legumes. There are many management factors that we need to focus on to maintain quality pastures. Producers should maintain appropriate stocking rates for their field size. Also, always remember to maintain grazing heights and never graze below two inches of forage. And probably the most cost effective management practice that we can utilize is proper and timely soil testing.

If you haven’t sampled your pasture’s soils in a while, that’s the first place to start and this is the time of year to do it. Poor soil fertility is a major factor in weed infestation and overall decline in a forage stand. A low pH creates a great environment for unwanted weeds to grow and establish themselves. A soil test can save you money by eliminating the overuse of fertilizers and possibly reduce the need to use herbicides for weed control.

If, for example, your soil test showed that a particular field had a lower pH, the test results would inform you of the recommended lime and any fertilizer needs that field requires. By following the recommendations on a soil test you will improve both your pasture’s nutrient value, quality of the stand and competitiveness against weeds.

Unfortunately many people may be overusing lime and with the price increase of lime over recent years, you may be wasting lots of money. Only apply lime when it is recommended by a soil test. Don’t just assume a field needs lime. Some soils need to be limed every two to three years, others every three to four years. In general, sandy soils need to be limed more frequently than clays because sandy soils are more subject to pH changes caused by leaching and fertilizer treatments.

Here in North Carolina, we have the opportunity to grow quality forages that could allow livestock to graze year round. By utilizing soil testing you can do your best to make sure the grass is always greener on your side of the fence!

Soil testing is free to North Carolina residents from April 1-Nov. 27. If you have any questions on improving your soil or need to pick up a soil test kit, stop in or call the North Carolina Cooperative Extension of Lee County at (919) 775-5624.

Kim Tungate is the Agriculture Agent responsible for Field Crops and Livestock for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center.