The 'right time' is near have you planned?


Well-Known Member
The adage 'you cannot manage what you cannot measure' is most true for growing 'improved' or 'tame' forages in typical modern production systems. The main reason for monitoring soil chemical fertility under tame forage systems is that plant diversity is low and root diversity is low and many times resilience to low fertility has been bred out of the improved caches of elements deep in the soil are never tapped and made plant available or recycled to topsoil for future availability. Yields and persistence of tame forages have been correlated to chemical soil tests for decades....the relationship is generally predictive.

Sometime in late winter (~20 Feb here) cool season plants 'pop' or start new growth. This is Phase I plant growth driven by nutrients stored in plant roots and crown and increased sunlight capture due to higher sun angle in the sky. Soil nutrient levels are highest at this time of year and when you should take a soil sample for chemical testing to get a snap shot of the 'best soil picture' and let the soil lab tell you if that is adequate for the intended forages you want to grow. When the plant enters Phase II of growth, roots begin to use soil available nutrients, values on the chemical soil test continually decline through the rest of the growing season.

Novice plotters often are overwhelmed with soil test results then seek advice of others. Most labs offer amendment recommendations with the test. Few have been doing soil testing as long as Ray Ward!

How to Read a Soil Test Report

Ward Labs also offer soil biology testing.....aka the 'Haney Test'....which uses measures of soil biological activity and soil organic nutrients to predict fertilizer needs and yield.

Haney/Soil Health Test Information

The Haney test is most useful for production based on native forages or for management geared toward soil health and increased nutrient cycling rates without inputs (or low input management) for tame forage production. Native plant communities evolve to produce on what nutrients the soil biology makes available via a myriad of root depths and high activity of mychorrizal soil fungi. Rarely are 'chemical' nutrient levels high because there is always something there to use what becomes available when it is available....and some elements may never see mineral soil due to being held in transport of the mychorrizal fungi. Using a chemical soil test on a native plant system or highly diverse tame forage system is useless because the system is biologically driven and biologically dependent....not chemically dependent!

Here is an example of a low input native forage system.....never amended....never chemically soil tested...growth driven by soil biology! You won't seen many pastures in this area with that amount of forage available to the cow in February. The strip fence will be pulled next week for the herd to do what they do stimulate soil biology for another year of production for both wildlife and stock!
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Seems that the wild onions are in overload production this year. And fescue is going crazy. Not sure about the chemical and/or biology but there is a lot of green showing after these January rains.