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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Crop and Soil Environmental News, December 2002

Soil Fertility Management

Dr. Mark Alley, W. G. Wysor Professor

Dry weather during early fall followed by extensive rains has resulted in a number of small grain fields being planted without lime and fertilizer applications (and in many cases, soil samples were not taken). Also, it appears that many fields that are planted to forage crops were not sampled this fall, and have not received lime and fertilizer. These fields should be sampled as quickly as possible in order to determine lime and fertilizer needs. Small grain fields that are planted, but that are low in pH should be limed as soon as soil conditions permit application. I have seen numerous small grain fields respond to top-dress lime applications, and fertilizer use efficiency increases with proper soil pH levels. In addition, the soil pH will be at a much more appropriate level for the double-crop soybeans if lime is applied this winter. The same is true with forage crops. If there is a lime need, apply as soon as possible.

Small grains that have been planted without fall fertilization may need N applications soon, especially the no-till crops. Late-planting and cold temperatures have restricted small grain growth, and N deficiency will only further reduce tiller and root development. Evaluate each field and apply needed N as soon as possible.

Forage crops should receive needed P and K as soil conditions permit. Split applications enable producers to spread their costs and to fertilize according to available moisture and yield levels. Soil samples provide the basis for the winter fertilizer application, and for the summer applications that will be made depending on moisture availability.

2002 has been a difficult year with low yields and increased expenses in many cases for both growers and dealers. Basic soil fertility programs that increase fertilizer use efficiency are beneficial to all segments of our industry, and dealers and advisors set the tone for "doing things right." It is up to all of us to stay focused on helping growers be as efficient as possible.

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