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Soil test this fall for better forage next springSoil test this fall for better forage next spring

Fall soil testing can allow time for nutrient applications to kick in before growing season.

Jennifer M. Latzke

October 24, 2023

3 Min Read
Bales of alfalfa in field
FORAGE MAINTENANCE: A little planning and work this fall can help you boost your forage yields next spring and summer. gabrielabertolini/Getty images

Taking some time to maintain pastures this fall can help you at turnout next season, say Kansas State University experts. Topping the list would be soil testing this fall.

In the Oct. 12 Agronomy eUpdate, Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, K-State nutrient management specialist, reminds farmers that by soil testing in the fall they give themselves more time for any lime applications to have an effect before the forage growing season begins in the spring. It also allows more time to plan and execute nutrient applications.

“Soil sampling is typically recommended at least every three to four years,” Ruiz Diaz said. But with higher fertilizer prices, sampling every two years can help farmers dial in their fertilizer prescriptions.

  • Use a soil probe. Many county KSU Extension offices or even NRCS offices have these available to loan out. If you must use a shovel or spade, dig the hole first. Then, taking the blade, slice a sample from the edge of the hole to the correct depth. You don’t want to bias your samples by having more soil from the surface and less from the lower depth, Ruiz Diaz said.

  • Create a representative composite soil sample. Use a clean container to avoid contamination, you’ll combine 15 to 20 soil cores and mix them thoroughly. So, this one composite sample can represent a uniform and treatable area of 10 to 40 acres.

  • Account for differences in the field. If your field has spots of different forages, crops, or even soil types, you’ll want to sample those areas separately.

  • Sample pastures and hay fields at least 3 to 4 inches deep for pH evaluation. If you’re measuring for phosphorus and potassium, you’ll need a 6-inch-deep sample.

  • Soil pH is especially critical for legumes, like alfalfa and clovers, Ruiz Diaz explained. Their optimal pH level is 6 to 7, he said, with alfalfa requiring a near-neutral pH of 7. “Grasses such as brome or fescue do well at lower pH than legumes,” he said. A soil pH out of balance can severely impact nutrient uptake and affect legumes’ ability to fix nitrogen, Low soil pH can result in aluminum toxicity.

  • To fix, apply lime, but do so 6 to 12 months before you plant, he said. “If you want to get a more rapid response from liming, use fine-ground liming materials with high effective calcium carbonate [ECC].”

  • If you’re planning to plant alfalfa next spring, soil-test for phosphorus and potassium, You might also consider testing for sulfur and boron, which are becoming limiting nutrients for legumes in eastern Kansas.

Pasture maintenance

The Johnson County KSU Extension office also recommends taking time this fall to get around to some of those pasture maintenance chores.

Grasses and forbs are going to seed in the fall, as are unwanted weeds. They recommend mowing those patches of weeds before they go to seed. But, be careful you don’t mow the desired species and hurt its ability to store carbohydrates for overwintering. If you spray, spray those perennial weeds — especially the noxious weeds — in the fall as they start to prepare for overwintering and storing their own carbohydrates.

While you’re in the pasture, take time to cut tree saplings and woody shrubs that are encroaching in fields. Nip them at the ground and use a stump treatment so they don’t resprout.

In the case of brome stands, evaluate if you need to reseed the field. If you cut it later in the year and it didn’t have a chance to recover due to adverse heat conditions or an attack from armyworms, you may need to reseed the stand. Brome can be planted in late summer, early fall, winter, or even early spring.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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