This month as we enter into fall weather I thought I would discuss three things to consider when thinking of fall pasture management: soil sampling, nutrient application and reseeding.

As successful livestock producers, we must first, and foremost, be successful grass farmers. When we examine the steps that we take to become successful grass farmers, soil testing is a tool that is most underutilized. In our world today, the vast majority of producers are constantly looking for different ways to save money, and soil testing is a great way to do just that. So, let’s begin there. 

First things first when it comes to soil sampling, we recommend collecting samples prior to seeding/reseeding, applying nutrients or changing the crop being grown on a specific property. For most no-till crops, such as pastures and hayfields, samples should be collected to a depth of approximately 4 inches, using a clean stainless steel or chrome-plated tool and a clean plastic bucket. Avoid taking samples during wet times or extremely dry times.

After taking 15-20 core samples spread across the pasture or hayfield, mix them in the bucket and then fill the soil box to the indicated line. Finally, fill out the information on the box and on the forms and mail those to the address listed on the forms. The soil testing boxes and corresponding paperwork can be obtained at your local Cooperative Extension Center.

Once your soil report has been processed, recommendations will include the amounts of lime and fertilizer necessary to meet the needs of the specific plant or crop that will be grown. Efficient use of nutrients can reduce fertilizer costs and environmental concerns without jeopardizing yield or quality. Therefore, soil testing is the first step in planning a quality fertilization program which leads us to my next point: nutrient application.

For cool season perennial grass forages such as fescue and orchardgrass, the “Cadillac” treatment is to split the recommended nitrogen rate from your soil report and apply half in mid-February to March and the remaining half in mid-August to September.

Correct timing of nutrient applications is important for optimal forage growth and persistent, and with any fertilizer program, management of the soil pH is extremely important as it regulates the availability of other nutrients. Soil testing and nutrient application both work together to prepare our soils for my third and final point, reseeding.

Seeding and/or reseeding a forage crop is very important as it can be expensive depending on the type of forage. On average the process of establishing a forage crop can cost a producer anywhere from $100 to $250 per acre. However, perennial crops such as fescue and orchardgrass can remain productive for several years without having to be reseeded.

Successfully establishing a forage crop will depend partially on the weather at and around planting time, therefore, the timing of seeding is important for survival rate. As a general rule, cool-season forages, specifically cool-season perennials, are best established in the fall. Not only is timing important for successful forage crop establishment but so is seeding rate and depth.

For a quality fall forage management system, utilizing soil testing will allow you to save time and money on correct nutrient applications and liming which will allow you to establish new forage crops as well as prolong the life of your existing forage crops.

For more information regarding specific forages, planting dates, planting depths, soil reports or any other topic mentioned in this article, producers or prospective producers may contact me at the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Center at 586-4009 or by email at kendra_norton@ncsu.edu.

Kendra Fortner is the livestock agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain counties.