by Rich Taber
The year of 2015 was certainly a roller coaster year as far as weather patterns went. The springtime started out a little dry, and then was followed by a torrentially wet early summer. The incessant rains made getting crops planted and hay harvested in a timely manner all but impossible. Then we rolled into a long dry spell that lasted well into the autumn. However, this is the nature of farming; we roll with the punches and drive on. We cannot control nature, but we can take some initiative to make the next year smoother and more profitable. As 2015 draws to a close and winter looms upon us, perhaps we could consider some of the following activities to make the next trip around the sun more profitable.
- It’s always a good idea to have current soil tests on hand. You do not need to sample every field or pasture every single year, but at least every third year should be sufficient. A good test will show what your fields need in the way of nutrients to support the desired crops. Not only that, a soil test will show you your field acidity level, which can be corrected with lime. Nutrients will not be available to plants if the soil acidity levels are too low. Typically most grasses need at least a pH of 6.2, and the more legumes you have in your swards the higher the ph level needs to be, up in the mid 6’s. A soil test typically costs about $20; a Cornell Soil Health test costs more but can give you a complete “snapshot” on your soils’ health and condition.
- Autumn is a good time to add lime to the soil; your crop vendor will be happy to spread lime on your fields at this time of year rather than during the busy and oftentimes wet spring rush. Lime also takes several months to react chemically in the soil. Spreading as far in advance of the next cropping cycle gives the calcium and magnesium ions in the lime lots of time to displace the crop robbing acids.
- Shopping around for the best deal on lime is critical. Unfortunately, all lime is not created equal. When your soil test results come back, they tell you how many tons of 100% Effective Neutralizing Value lime is needed. Lime that is available for purchase in Upstate New York can have an ENV value as low as 50% and as high as 95%, and typically costs $50-60 a ton to spread, regardless of the analysis. If the soil test shows that you need 4 tons of lime to the acre, then you divide 4 by the ENV percentage of the lime from your vendor. If the lime is only 70% ENV, then you divide 4 by .7, resulting in you having to purchase 5.7 tons of lime per acre. Shop around, and remember, all lime is not created equal!
- Look at your pasture and hayfield stands. Perhaps there are not as many legumes presentas you would like. Adding some clovers or other legumes next spring to your fields would pull in that nitrogen from the air for free, and which is very expensive to purchase. Air is 78% nitrogen, and legumes such as clover and alfalfa bring in the needed nitrogen so needed for animal performance; you may as well have the legumes do it inexpensively rather than having to buy expensive nitrogen fertilizer. Winter is the time for studying seed catalogs and figuring out how you will pay for the needed crop amendments next spring. Plan, plan, plan!
Rich Taber is Grazing, Forestry, and Ag Economic Development Specialist with CCE Chenango and can be reached at 607-334-5841 ext. 21 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also a partner with his wife Wendy on the 165 acre “Great Northern Farm” farm in Madison County where they raise beef cattle, sheep, poultry, graze, make hay, and market “Meadow Raised Meats”