Ag Connection
Your link to the Universities for ag extension and research information

Volume 8, Number 2
February  2002


This Month in Ag Connection



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Limestone -- The Foundation of a Fertility Program

If you are looking for ways of reducing cost, don’t cut corners on lime. It is not uncommon to see soil tests from pastures and hayfields with the pH between 4.5 and 5.5.

As the chart below illustrates, the efficiency of nutrients applied as fertilizer or those already stored in the soil is greatly diminished when the pH drops below the optimum range of 6.0-6.5.

Nutrient Efficiency at Different pH Levels*






Required Fertilizer Bill































*The fertilizer cost for a cool season grass hay crop was based on applying 100 lbs N (nitrogen) ($.25/lb), 90 lbs P (phosphorous) ($.20/lb), and 60 lbs K (potassium) ($.13/lb) per acre.

At a pH of 6.5, there would be a 100% fertilizer efficiency. If the pH was 4.5, 54% of the fertilizer applied would have been unused. The producer would need to have spent $64 more ($115 total) in fertilizer to make up for that loss! Meanwhile, the forage may be suffering from deficiency resulting in lower hay yield! It wouldn’t take long to pay for 2-3 tons of lime costing $19-$28 to raise the pH. Take a soil test and find out where your fields stand on pH.

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Ozarka ... Missouri's New Cold-Tolerant Bermudagrass

A new hybrid Bermudagrass that tolerates Missouri winters will be released to seed stock producers this spring by the University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station.

Named Ozarka, the cold-tolerant Bermudagrass is suited for hay and grazing, said Rob Kallenbach, MU forage agronomist. He is testing Ozarka at several sites in Missouri. Fields now grow as far north as Lexington, Rocheport, and Elsberry, across mid-Missouri. In the release notice, Ozarka is described as suited for the southern one-third of Missouri and Kansas. The initial release will be to foundation seed growers in Missouri and Oklahoma. Ozarka could be available to farmers as early as 2003.

Ozarka is the most cold tolerant of the available varieties, which may extend the use of Bermudagrass northward. Forage quality is better than many other forages species available for grazing in southwestern Missouri during the summer.

As a hybrid, the grass must be established with sprigs of roots and rhizomes. It does not produce much seed. Ozarka grows upright and relatively tall, unlike some Bermudagrass. It has potential for management-intensive grazing systems. With lack of problems from blister beetles combined with its high quality, Bermudagrass is replacing alfalfa as a hay of choice for horse owners.

Test fields across central Missouri have shown no problems with winterkill. A plot at Tarkio, MO., did not become established. Kallenbach said he doesn't know the northern limit of the variety, although plots at the USDA Plant Materials Center at Elsberry have survived five years. There have been no unusual or severe disease or insect problems.

Bermudagrass does best in fertile, sandy-loam soils; however, it also grows well in heavier soils. Bermudagrass maintains good growth in soils with pH as low as 5. For best production it requires high nitrogen and considerable moisture. Ozarka has shown as much drought tolerance as other varieties.

Production for forage is good. In the best years at Mount Vernon, the grass produced more than 5 tons of dry matter per acre on shallow Ozark soil. On better soil, yield potential is much higher.

Bermudagrass can utilize large amounts of N, 200 to 300 pounds may be required for maximum yield. Adequate phosphorus and potassium are also required. The fertility demand provides a good use for poultry litter in many areas.

The best planting rate is 20 to 25 bushels of sprigs per acre. Weed control and fertility management are required to hasten establishment. The grass spreads through underground rhizomes so production may be limited the first year.

For more information, contact the Missouri Seed Improvement Association, 3211 Lemone Industrial Drive; Columbia, MO 65201; or call (573) 449-0586.

(Source: Rob Kallenbach 573/884-2213; Tom Hansen 417/862-9284)

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Fertilizing With Poultry Litter

Poultry litter has long been known for its value as fertilizer for pastures, hay land and crop ground. It contains a wealth of nutrients including the macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and calcium (Ca). Poultry litter also contains many micronutrients and organic matter (OM) that most commercial fertilizers do not.

Using litter successfully requires an understanding of it’s nutrient makeup and what happens to nutrients after their application on land. You can expect about a 50 percent or greater loss of nitrogen when litter is applied on top of the ground without being incorporated due to runoff and ammonia volatilization. The odor that comes with litter application is an indication of N loss to the atmosphere in the form of ammonia. Incorporation through tillage or rain shortly after application will lessen ammonia volatilization. Litter should not be over-applied in anticipation of ammonia volatilization. A better practice would be to supplement with commercial N to avoid over-application of P and K.

It is wise to get a nutrient analysis of the litter since there is often a huge variation. Research shows that 80 percent of applied P and 100 percent of K is available the first year, whether applied on top of the ground or incorporated. These analyses also vary in how they are reported; therefore, it is a good idea to ask for the assistance of an agronomist before interpreting them.

This excellent fertilizer source should be used in a way that leads to the greatest benefit to the farmer along with being safe for the environment. Over-applications can lead to nutrient runoff into streams, lakes and ponds. Yearly applications on pastures are not always a good idea.

The problem with litter applications on pastures stems from a buildup of phosphorus and other elements resulting from of a recycling of the nutrients back to the soil in animal manure. Unlike crop or hay fields where larger amounts of nutrients are removed with the crop, pasture returns a whopping 90 percent of the phosphorus back to the soil. Over time, a significant buildup can occur. Soil tests should be taken every three years to verify if applications are needed.

For information on how to do a more effective job of fertilizing with poultry litter, contact your nearest University Outreach and Extension Center.  The following guides will be helpful:

  • WQ 203: Conservative Litter Management Approach for Poultry

  • WQ 218: Record Keeping for Manure Land Application

  • WQ 220: Spreading Poultry Litter Without Lab Analysis or Soil Tests

  • WQ 221: Spreading Poultry Litter With Lab Analysis but Without Soil Tests

  • WQ 222: Spreading Poultry Litter Without Lab Analysis but With Soil Tests

  • WQ 223: Spreading Poultry Litter With Lab Analysis and With Soil Tests

  • (Author: Tim Schnakenberg, Agronomy Specialist)

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    Top Ten Reasons To Soil Test Your Garden

    1. Maximize the productivity of your garden. Soil tests identify yield-robbing deficiencies and provide recommendations for fertilizer and amendments.
    2. Reward your hard work with hard science. Fertilizer recommendations that are provided with soil test reports are based on sound research, which maximizes results from fertilizer use.
    3. Learn a little — or maybe a lot. Soil test recommendations come with information that will teach and inform about best management practices for your yard and garden.
    4. Save by applying only the amount of fertilizer that is needed. A soil test will determine the amount of nutrients that your soil will supply; so unnecessary fertilizer applications can be avoided.
    5. Be healthy. Well-fertilized fruits and vegetables result in more nutritious food. Nutrient deficient soil yields produce that is lower in nutrients and protein.
    6. Protect the environment. Applying fertilizer according to soil test recommendations prevents excessive fertilizer applications. Fertilizer applied in excess of plant need increases the likelihood that it will run off into lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.
    7. Conserve. Don’t apply fertilizer when it isn’t needed. Fertilizers are made from our natural resources (natural gas and nutrient-bearing rocks). Unnecessary applications of fertilizer needlessly use those resources.
    8. Inventory your soil resource. Knowing the nutrient levels in your soil can help you plan future garden or yard management and needs.
    9. Color your lawn/flower bed/shrubs. A properly fertilized soil will result in a deep green color in your lawn. Properly fertilized flowers and shrubs will maintain a healthy appearance. Some shrubs will flower only if the soil is maintained with appropriate fertility.
    10 Detect what is wrong with your plants. A soil test can help solve the riddle of what is ailing your plant(s) or lawn.

    (Author: Todd Lorenz, Horticulture/Agronomy Specialist)

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    Taxation Tidbit:  Contribution Limit Increased for Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA's)

    The Economic Growth & Tax Relief Act of 2001 (2001 Tax Act) provides for increased contributions to IRAs.

    Tax Year  IRA Contribution Limit
    2002 – 2004  $3,000
    2005 – 2007  $4,000
    2008 and after  $5,000

    The 2001 Tax Act also allows “older” taxpayers the opportunity to contribute additional amounts annually to their IRAs. This “catch up” provision allows taxpayers aged 50 and older before the end of the tax year to contribute an additional $500 above the regular contribution limits starting in 2002. The “catch up” amount is scheduled to increase to $1,000 per year beginning in 2006.

    (Author: Parman R. Green, Farm Business Management Specialist)

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    University Outreach and ExtensionAg Connection - Ag Connection Newsletter,  February 2002 -- Revised: September 30, 2002