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Forage Soil Fertility

Maintaining high-yielding and quality hay production requires careful attention to fertilizer management. Few crops can deplete soil of available plant nutrients faster than harvesting high yields of forages because you haul away virtually all of the top growth of forage plants.

Benefits of a Good Soil Fertility Program for Forages

  • Avoid stand decline due to winter injury or weed competition
  • Minimize disease problems accentuated by nutrient shortage or imbalance
  • Improve crop stress tolerance to drought, temp. extremes, frequent harvest and pests
  • Prevention of early decline in both forage yield and quality
Pounds of Nutrients Removed from the Soil per Ton of Forage
Crop N P2O5 K2O Mg S
Alfalfa 56 15 60 5 5
Bermudagrass 50 12 47 3 6
Clover-grass 50 15 60 5 5
Fescue 40 19 53 4 4
Orchardgrass 50 17 62 4 4
Timothy 38 14 62 3 4

Fertilizer Rates

Adequate amounts of lime, nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and minor elements are needed to produce high yields of hay per acre and to maintain stands of desirable plants. The most important factor in soil fertility is maintaining the proper soil pH. A low pH will result in nutrients not working effectively or efficiently. A good liming program is essential.

Soil testing with a state or private lab is the only accurate way to determine what nutrients are needed. For soils testing medium in Phosphorous and Potassium the following is a general guideline for pastures with no hay removal.

The guidelines for a good stockpiling program are simple:

  1. Graze or clip fescue pastures short in early August to remove the old mature forage.
  2. Apply 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre in mid-late August. This will promote new growth.
  3. Keep cattle off one or two of the pastures, which will allow the fescue to accumulate.
  4. Later in the fall or winter when forage is needed, it can then be grazed
Fertilizer Rates
Nitrogen 45-60 lbs fall
Phosphate 45-60 lbs fall or early spring
Potash 45-60 lbs fall or early spring

*The A&L labs general recommendation for hay is 40 lbs of N per acre for each ton of hay produced with no more than 200 lbs per acre per year.


Sulfur is an important nutrient for winter annual grasses like fescue. It is essential for proper nitrogen utilization and sulfur leaches from the soil similar to nitrogen. Application rates are recommended at 20 lbs per acre.

Magnesium levels should be monitored to help prevent grass tetany in cattle.

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