These days, dairy producers are looking to manage costs any way they can. But saving money by blindly reducing fertilizer inputs for corn silage production could reduce silage quality and cost more in the end. A more efficient approach is to use soil testing to ensure that only the necessary nutrients are being applied to fields.

Soil testing is a critical step to understand the fertility level and needs of a field intended for silage production. Results of regular soil tests can assist in developing a fertility plan that can help improve silage quality and thus improve milk production and the overall bottom line.

Soil tests help producers develop a focused strategy, says Mark Riehl, Mycogen Seeds customer agronomist. “Test results make it easier to determine how to best spend fertility input dollars or make manure applications based on the nutrients needed most.”

“A soil sample is kind of like a diagnostic blood test,” Riehl says. “It helps producers closely monitor the health of their fields and diagnose any fertility problems, which can lead to improved profitability across their operations.”

To maximize soil testing efficiency, Riehl offers the following recommendations:

• Soil samples should be taken at least every three years. The workload and cost can be spread out by testing one third of the acreage each year.

• The best time to conduct a soil test is in the fall or early spring.

• In most cases, an ideal soil pH is 6.8 to 7.2, but it can vary.

• Be sure to check potassium, which is essential for stalk strength.

• Other key soil nutrients to examine are: Phosphorus, Sulfur, Boron, Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc

Riehl also reminds producers to test manure to identify nutrient content before application. On manured soils, a pre-sidedress soil nitrate test can be helpful to avoid over-application of nitrogen.

A local agronomist or Extension specialist can help set up a fertility plan to optimize silage production, he adds.