Still time to soil test hay fields

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Soil test samples can be pulled anytime of the year that the ground is not frozen. Various experts advise to try to soil test at the same season of the year to have a more accurate trend line when you compare fertility levels over long periods of time. But in today’s hectic world, a soil test taken any time of the year is better than not taking one at all.

According to Michigan State University Extension, there is still time to pull soil samples this year, especially on hay fields. If you have not soil tested in recent years, now may be a great time to still get them done.

In recent years many farms cut back on the fertilization of hay and pasture fields. Fertilizer prices were high and the price of forage was low. In many instances baling hay was not profitable, especially if you were trying to sell it, so many farms quit fertilizing and soil testing hay fields all together.

The times have definitely changed – hay prices for the upcoming winter season are running $115 - $240 per ton. Most of the dairy quality alfalfa hays are selling for more than $180 per ton. The other part of this changing equation is that fertilizer prices in last quarter of 2013 have fallen. Potash, 0-0-60, one of the key nutrients for alfalfa hay, has fallen 18 percent in price from one year ago to the $450 per ton range across Michigan retail markets. International markets for potash are showing weakness and many feel these markets will stay low for the spring and may even move lower.

The impact of these two price swings makes alfalfa hay one of more promising crops for 2014 from a profitability standpoint. But in order to optimize yield fertility levels must be optimum as well. “We have too many alfalfa hay fields across Michigan that are low in potassium” warns Kim Cassida, MSU Forage Specialist. “When potash was high priced farms backed off on their annual topdress rates and their alfalfa stands are showing it.” Alfalfa is less drought tolerant and less winter hardy when it is low in potassium.

Now is the time to get hay fields and pastureland soil tested and beat the spring rush. If we put off doing it now it may not get done in time for the upcoming growing season. In this upcoming season the reward could be significant.

For more information contact me at lindquis@anr.msu.edu or 231-832-6139 or MSU forage specialist Kim Cassida at cassida@msu.edu.



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