Soil test hay and pasture fields to maximize production

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“Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.”

— Suhail Doshi 

(on the importance of data) 

Fall is the best time to test your pasture or hay field’s nutrients and pH, and soil testing should be part of your land management strategy. Soil testing provides more information to producers so they can ensure their fields are healthy, productive, and can support the land usage. 

Knowing your field’s nutrient status and pH is crucial for optimal forage production and directly relates to the success of the farm. Poor soils lacking the necessary nutrients will not yield as much forage growth, resulting in a lesser stocking rate and/or increase in supplemental feed. Either way, it can cost you money. Soil tests are relatively inexpensive, making it worth the investment. 

If you have never tested your fields before or if it has been a while, now is an excellent time to start testing. With the heavy rainfalls we experienced over the last few years, you may find you need to replenish the soil’s nutrients to ensure sufficient forage growth for this season. Excessive rainfalls during the summer can encourage grass to stay green when it would normally go dormant, resulting in more nutrients consumed from the soil. 

If you decide to test, it is important to remember that soil recommendations are based on the assumption that the forage grown will be utilized. Therefore, it is important for producers to adjust the stocking rates and grazing management as necessary to ensure that the forage produced is used. This is essential to maximizing the benefits from the investment of purchased fertilizer. 

Testing your soil is not a difficult task and many extension offices have soil probes to loan out for free to assist in extracting the soil. In addition to the probe, the extension office can provide you information on how to take a quality soil sample. Below are recommendations for sampling your fields: 

Whether you take samples in the spring or fall, be consistent by taking samples the same time of the year, every time you sample. This way you can track trends and adjust your nutrient management plan. 

For southeast Ohio, one soil sample should not exceed 5-10 acres.

For fields larger fields, subdivide into smaller areas 

Each sample should comprise of 15-25 borings taken randomly throughout the field. 

Exclude areas that are not representative of the field; for example: eroded areas, wet spots, edge of the field and high nutrient areas (watering and shade tree areas). 

Each boring should be 4 inches in depth. Be consistent for each boring afterwards. 

Let your soil sample air dry in a shady spot and on a clean surface before submitting to the lab or extension office. Never heat the sample. 

Pastures should be sampled every 3-4 years and at establishment. 

Never sample immediately after applying, fertilizer, lime or manure. 

Soil testing should be the first step in your grazing management plan. This information will aid in the decision-making process. When taking a soil sample remember to be consistent and keep your borings representative of the field you’re sampling. Finally, remember our famous soil sampling quote: “Test, don’t guess.”

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