The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

March 1, 2013

Extension office hosts pasture fertility workshop

Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office of Anderson County and Anderson County Beef and Forage Committee presented a workshop on Fertility of Pastures and Hay Meadows Tuesday.

Keynote speaker was Mark L. McFarland, an extension soil fertility specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in College Station. The second speaker was Dr. Larry Redmond, a state forage specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at Texas A&M University.

During the first half of the workshop, McFarland discussed how to manage soil fertility to minimize pesticide use and improve production, as well as, issues facing beef and forage producers. Some of these issues included fertilizer cost, drought, weed problems, and proper stocking rates.

McFarland went into detail on fertilizer cost, management of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. He also elaborated on fertilizer selection, soil acidity and liming, soil testing, alternative fertilizer, and non-traditional products.

McFarland emphasized the importance of nutrient management. With the sky-rocketing prices of certain nutrients, many farmers are hurting their crop by trying to save money. He suggested they be prepared for higher fertilizer costs and encouraged them to shop around.

McFarland explained how nutrients can contaminate a body of water. He said fertilizer can run off into creeks, streams and lakes and cause excessive plant growth leading to eutrophication.

“Nitrogen and phosphorus are needed by all plants for optimum growth and production,” McFarland explained.

He shared a study completed in 2010 of 1,214 bodies of water in Texas. The results showed 621 of those bodies of water, or 51 percent were impaired.

McFarland emphasized the importance of managing soil fertility.

“We need to protect our environment,” he stressed.

He discussed the basic procedures in nutrient management planning, including type and rate of fertilizer, the application, method of application and timing of application.

“You have to have balanced nutrients,” McFarland said.

He said soil testing is important because, “It identifies nutrients needed and optimum rate of application based on crop and yield potential.”

Re-testing every year is vital, he added.

According to the expert, in the case of a drought and no harvest, only a small portion of the nutrients have been removed. Retesting the soil will identify what needs to be replaced.

“There is no perfect fertilizer for all fields or for all years,” he said. “The best fertilizer is the one based on a current soil test.” The number one step in taking a successful soil sample is to collect a composite soil sample from each management zone. A composite sample should include 10 to 15 subsamples.

McFarland expounded details on nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrogen sources include; ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, urea and urea ammonium nitrate. He explained that ammonium produces acidity and ammonium sulfate is the most acidic. He stressed that they all can be equally effective if properly applied.

He suggested calculating the cost per pound of nutrient by dividing the cost per ton by the pounds of nitrogen per ton to help conclude which nitrogen fertilizer would be the most cost effective.

Another important aspect of producing successful crop is fertilizer timing.

“You need to make sure night time temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit,” McFarland said. “If not, you’ll grow something, but it won’t be what you want.

“Phosphorus is a critical component,” he continued.

Potassium is also an important nutrient.

According to McFarland, if you do not include potassium, your crop will grow yellow.

“Potassium is luxury consumed by the plant,” he said.

Next on the list of discussion was alternative fertilizers.

McFarland discussed three alternative fertilizers including; composts, manures and bio-solids.

He referred to the new chicken plant coming to Palestine and the fertilizer value of poultry litter. He also warned when using composts, to get a compost test.

“You need to know what’s in it,” he cautioned.

Some categories of non-traditional products are: soil conditioners, soil activators (biological inoculants), wetting agents, plant stimulants, growth hormones and mineral sources used in an unconventional way.

He warned to be careful of non-traditional products.

“Don’t base (your purchase on) testimonials,” McFarland cautioned.

For more information regarding these issues, visit

Redmond discussed stocking rates, water quality, grass burr control and feral hogs.

According to Redmond, Dupont has a new herbicide for bermudagrass pastures, Pastora. This herbicide controls many broadleaf and grassy weeds.

Like McFarland, Redmond went into detail about water quality.

According to the Texas Water Resources Institute, “Sources of bacteria across the landscape are numerous and it is the responsibility of everyone to do their part in helping minimize bacteria and other pollutants from entering our valuable waterways. The agricultural industry can play an important role in helping improve water quality across the state.

“Simple changes in how livestock and feral hogs are managed can result in significant impacts and can help reduce the amount of bacteria entering the Texas streams and rivers, thus protecting the well-being of all Texans.”

Redmond also discussed droughts in a timeline. A typical drought timeline is 25 years. He said Texas had a bad drought in 1995, and has since experienced an overall drought environment. According to the timeline, the current drought will last approximately through 2020.

Droughts are detrimental in the growth of crops, Redmond said because, “no water, no grass.”

If you’re in the agricultural business in Texas, many experience an issue with feral hogs. According to Redmond and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, they continue to grow in numbers in Texas.

“Because of their destructive feeding habits and potential to spread disease, feral hogs are a substantial liability to agriculture and native wildlife in Texas,” Redmond said.

Other forage pests include grasshoppers and armyworms that can bring devastation to pastures. There are some pyrethroid products available to help protect against an epidemic of grasshoppers and armyworms, including: Mustang, Tombstone and Labda Cy. These products have few if any grazing or harvest restrictions.

For more information regarding any of the details presented by Redmond visit http:/ or

Workshop sponsors included AgriLand Farm Credit Band and Anderson County Farm Bureau.