seal  Purdue News

September 25, 2003

Address the soil's needs after hay harvest is complete

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Once hay harvest is complete, farmers need to be sure their soil has enough nutrients for next year's crop.

"This is the ideal time of the year to sample soil," said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage management specialist. "It's one of those times of the year where it's frankly more pleasant to be out doing soil sampling as compared to the hot, humid weather of July. You're in a situation, too, where you can react to what the needs might be."

Typical soil needs include raising the pH level through the application of agricultural limestone and other essential nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sulfur.

"Properly taken soil tests on the farm will indicate what the needs are," Johnson said. "There is time to react now, specifically with raising soil pH. Way too often individuals get their soil tests back in April, are in a hurry, find they need two or three or four tons of limestone, and then put it on a day or week before they seed.

"That is not a reaction that happens in a day or a week. It takes months to change the pH of the soil with agricultural limestone. So at least between the time frame of late September and early October to April, we've got some time to increase soil pH before seeding. So this is the time of the year to get that soil analysis done."

Johnson said farmers also should walk their pastures and look at the plant species composition. If there is less than ideal amounts of legume present, grazing hard in the fall is not a bad recommendation. He said this reduces the residue to two inches or less in height to allow for proper seeding.

Another aspect farmers need to look at is hay quality, because quality ranged from super high quality to less than ideal this year, Johnson said. Through forage analysis farmers can decide the quality of the hay and the supplementation needs there may be for the type of livestock being fed.

"Only by knowing where you are with the quality of forage on hand can you figure out whether you'll need no grain or protein supplement or whether it is many pounds of grain or supplement per day to meet the needs of the animals," Johnson said.

Quality problems arrived with the rains in May and early July, but Johnson said new technology helps farmers weather the storms.

"One of the things I think farmers need to think about is strategies to work through a troubling haymaking season and how to combat Mother Nature a bit more effectively," he said. "One of those measures that's here technology-wise today that farmers are successfully using is making bale silage, whether individually or in a tube. That's working well for many farmers, as they are baling and ensiling their forage at 50 percent moisture instead of 20 moisture as dry hay."

When quality is decreasing because of inclement weather, bale silage may be a strategy to consider for on-farm use, Johnson said.

Writer: Michelle Betz, (765) 494-8402,

Source: Keith Johnson, (765) 494-4800,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Department of Agronomy
Purdue forage information

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