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Ways to be frugal as fuel, fertilizer prices rise

April 24, 2007|by JEFF SEMLER

If the weather man is correct today, the sun is shining and the mercury is flirting with the 70-degree mark.

The ground has adequate moisture and men and machinery alike are readying for field work. Most are probably in the field as you read this.

Spring is a wonderful time of year of rebirth and renewal. Tiny seeds are being stuck in the ground right now that will yield the bounty of the summer and fall harvest.

With the soaring cost of fuel and fertilizers, farmers will need to be even more frugal. Crop management and timely application of nutrients is one way of accomplishing this.

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Row crop producers are not the only ones watching their costs. Grass and pasture farmers are also in need of cost controls. One of the best ways to improve production and enrich your pasture is through management.

Grazing management is just that - management. Spring is the flush growth of our cool season grasses and we need to capture as much of that growth as we can in the form of grazing and haying.

If you are grazing, manage your forage resources. For the record, the once common method of turning stock onto a big pasture in the spring and collecting the survivors in the fall is at best laissez-faire management and at worse, especially if animal numbers are high, no management at all.

Many folks don't want to intensively manage their pastures; and while it would be to their benefit, I can understand this can be burdensome if you are managing large acreages or planting a lot of other crops.

But simple rotation and giving pastures rest can increase your production by 15 percent.

Rest is the key even though you often hear the word rotation used. The pasture plant needs time to regenerate, and overgrazing starves the plant. Keeping the plants vegetative will keep your pastures in the highest plane of nutrition and thus, your animals will perform better.

One thing to remember with our perennial cool season grass pastures is remove the animals when they have grazed the pasture down to 3 to 4 inches. It is essential that the plant not be grazed lower or the rest period will need to be extended.

What are our cool season grasses, you may be asking?

Here in this area, we primarily grow orchard grass, fescue, timothy and blue grass. Livestock can be turned in on all these grasses at a height of 6 to 8 inches and removed, as I said, at 3 to 4 inches. Blue grass is our exception, it can be grazed at 4 inches and removal should be at 2 inches.

With this management, once the soil nutrients are optimized by soil testing and amending and fertilizing, your system can almost be a closed loop system. Meaning, very little additional fertilizer will need to be added.

Research has shown that grazing beef cattle will deposit about 90 percent of the nutrients she eats back on the pasture in the form of manure and urine. The other 10 percent is exported off the farm in the form of meat.

Thus, very little nutrients need to be added back into the system.

One way to add these nutrients without fertilizer is to add alfalfa or clover to your pasture. These legumes will fix the nitrogen in the air and add it to the soil for the grass to utilize.

Another way to extend grazing is to stockpile your forage. This is primarily done with fescue. Graze your fescue until July or August and then remove your stock until after a killing frost.

The frosting causes the plant to convert its starches to sugars and you have some very nutritious grass that can be grazed all winter if you have enough, and the snow and ice don't impede the cow from reaching it.

So enjoy this fine weather and put together a grazing plan to help improve your bottom line. If you want assistance in drawing up a plan, feel free to contact me.

A correction

By lunchtime last Tuesday when my Farm page column appeared, I had several calls questioning my figures about the cost of producing an acre of corn.

Surprisingly, I didn't receive even one call on my article stating landlords shouldn't charge rent, but . . .

So first, I want to say thank you to the callers. My figures were from a previous year's budget and I should have updated all of my figures to reflect as best I can 2007 costs. Some figures change hourly, so averages are the best I can do.

Below are the updated figures. And, yes, fertilizer and fuel may have gone up since this paper left the presses.

Here are the updated costs to grow an acre of corn:

Rent - $50;

Repair/Maintenance/Interest - $35;

Fertilizer (Nitrogen only) - $50;

Fuel - $20;

Herbicide - $45;

Labor - $15;

Seed - $70; and

Harvesting - $30.

TOTAL - $325

So it will cost approximately $325 to grow an acre of corn.

If we get average rainfall which results in average yield (107 bushels per acre: source USDA), the income would be $407 given the projected price of corn at harvest.

The subsequent profit would be $82 per acre. At first glance, that may look like a reasonable profit. The problem is, if we have average prices ($2.45/bushel), your income would be $262 or a loss of $63 per acre.

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