The First Step in Pasture Restoration…Soil Sampling

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soil sample

To be a successful beef cattle producer, one must first be a successful grass farmer. Differences between a well-managed and a poorly managed forage program often show up in animal performance, milk production, conception rates, and fewer days of feeding stored forage. All of these impact the profitability of the livestock operation. Late summer and early fall is an excellent time to renovate and restore pastures. Often people think a pasture must be totally renovated or made “new” to be productive, when actually they can use restoration techniques. Examples of restoration include seeding, fertilization, liming, weed control, and improving the movement of animals through the pasture to control grass height.

There are several steps involved in establishing, renovating, or field restoration. These include: 1) soil testing and correcting soil nutrient deficiencies;  2) selecting the desired mixture of plant species;  3) selecting a seeding method; and 4) using proper management to maintain a productive stand.

Soil testing is a tool that is underutilized by many farmers. In today’s economy, consumers are always looking for ways to save money. One of the most practical ways to save money is to have your soil tested. Soil testing is a free service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at their Agronomic Division in Raleigh. For farmers, soil testing is the first step in planning an economical and environmentally sound fertilization program. The efficient use of nutrients can help reduce fertilizer costs and environmental concerns without reducing yield or quality. This requires a well-planned fertilization program based on soil sampling, wise selection of nutrients based on needs and costs, and proper application of fertilizers. A soil test will access the present levels of major plant nutrients, soil pH, and micronutrients. Recommendations will include the amounts of lime and fertilizer, if necessary, to meet the requirements of the specific plant or crop being grown.

Collect samples three to six months before planting time. Taking good samples, filling out paperwork properly, and packaging samples for delivery in a well-organized manner are important. For best results, use the following guidelines.

  1. For conventional crops, collect soil samples to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. For no-till crops and established crops, such as pastures and hayfields, samples need to be only 4 inches deep.
  1. Use a clean stainless steel or chrome-plated tool and a clean plastic bucket to avoid contamination.
  2. Mix soil cores in a bucket and then fill a standard soil box to the indicated line.
  3. Avoid taking samples when soil is wet.
  4. Use permanent ink to fill out the information on the box.

Soil testing forms and containers can be obtained at the Wilkes Extension Office.