Over the past year, consumers have experienced an increase in the prices of the products they use in their daily lives. This increase in commodity prices is also affecting the agricultural sector. In December, fertilizer prices more than doubled from a year ago. As farmers prepare for the 2022 growing season, we can expect these historically high prices to squeeze the profits of the men and women who grow our food. Fortunately, there are steps farmers can take to lower the cost of their fertilizer bill for the next growing season.
Take soil samples from your fields – For both breeders and row crop farmers, having the soil analyzed is the first step towards reducing fertilizer inputs. Getting the soil tested is a fairly straightforward task. Once samples are collected from the fields, they can be taken to the NC Cooperative Extension, Richmond County Center office at 123 Caroline Street in Rockingham; from there we send the samples for testing by the agronomic laboratory of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA & CS). Currently the lab is in its peak season for sample submissions, so there is a charge of $ 4 per sample. Testing tells us what nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, are available in the soil for the specific plants or crops we want to grow. Soil testing also quantifies the pH of our soil and provides us with a baseline of how much nutrients we need to add to grow a successful crop. Soil testing allows us to fine-tune our fertility plans so as not to over-apply nutrients that can be expensive during times of high fertilizer prices.
Don’t skimp on the lime – Although fertilizer prices have increased significantly over the past year, the price of agricultural lime, which is used to raise soil pH, has remained relatively stable. Since the vast majority of our soils are acidic, applying the recommended amount of lime will bring the soil pH to the desired range for our crops or pastures, which is typically 6 to 6.5. Research has repeatedly shown that greater amounts of plant nutrients are available when the soil’s pH is in the ideal range compared to soils with a lower pH, thus getting the most out of the applied fertilizer. .
Using manure – Another option to curb the sting of the fertilizer bill is to use animal fertilizers. Poultry litter is one of the most common animal waste nutrients in our county and, when used responsibly, can be an effective source of plant nutrients in row crops, like corn, and even in pastures. Animal manures can vary in their nutrient availability between sources, so it is always a good idea to submit a sample and have it analyzed for nutrient concentrations. This process is also provided by the NCDA & CS laboratory and shares the principles of sample as soil analysis.
Planting legumes – Legumes are plants which convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen which can be assimilated by plants with the help of soil bacteria called rhizobium. When planted as a cover crop or in pasture, some of this nitrogen will aid in the growth of subsequent crops. Due to their low fiber content and high protein content, legumes can also be incorporated into pastures to increase forage quality, which improves livestock performance. Common legumes that can be grown in our region in the fall are: clover species (purple, white, arrow), hairy vetch and winter pea. In summer, legumes such as cowpeas, soybeans, peanuts and hemp can be grown successfully. All of these plants ultimately help restore nitrogen to our soils, which can help lower the fertilizer bill.
As fertilizer prices continue to rise steadily, now is the time for livestock and row crop farmers to start implementing certain practices to help them cope with high fertilizer prices. If you have any questions regarding crop or pasture production, please contact Anthony Growe, Richmond County Livestock and Row Crops Officer, at (910) 997-8255.