Pasture and Forage Minute: Cattle Compaction in Cropland, Pasture Soil Sampling

Cattle grazing cornstalks

Pasture and Forage Minute: Cattle Compaction in Cropland, Pasture Soil Sampling

Cattle Compaction in Cropland

By Ben Beckman

Are you looking for additional income from your corn acres or feed for cattle? Grazing corn residue is a low-cost winter feed source for cattle and a source of additional income for farmers without negative effects on the cropland.

Many crop producers are concerned that trampling from cattle grazing corn residue negatively affects crop yields. When grazed at proper stocking rates, however, small but positive effects on crop production after grazing have been observed. 

Research conducted at the University of Nebraska has shown that grazing corn residue at the recommended stocking rate does not reduce corn or soybean yields in irrigated fields the following growing season.  

In fact, a long-term study in eastern Nebraska at the Eastern Research and Extension Center showed two to three bushel per acre improvements for soybean production following grazed corn residue in a corn-soybean rotation. This result was the same whether cattle grazed in the fall from November through January or spring from February through April.

A five-year study in western Nebraska measured corn yields from continuous corn after cattle grazing in the fall and found no negative effects on corn yields the following year.

It must be noted that minor surface compaction can result from grazing during wet weather. However, this compaction often disappears through the natural wetting and drying and freezing and thawing processes. Additionally, this compaction does not restrict root growth and does not carry over into the following growing season.

Grazing corn residue benefits both cattle and crop producers. Corn residue should be viewed as an economical source of winter roughage for cattle that can provide an extra source of income for corn producers that does not affect next year's crop production.

Pasture Soil Sampling

By Samantha Daniel

With elevated fertilizer prices, determining the current fertility of pastures and hay fields through soil sampling is more important than ever. Sampling now, before the ground freezes can help with planning this winter and give time to develop a fertility plan if soil tests show fertilizer is needed.

The process for taking soil samples is straightforward. Pull 10-20 cores at a consistent depth of eight inches for every 40 acres sampled. These samples can be taken in a representative area of the field or arranged by soil type and topography. Mix the samples together and take about a pint’s worth out to send off for analysis.

Soil cores and recommendations are often based on cores taken down to eight inches. However, if previous samples have been taken at a different depth, such as six inches, continue with the consistent historical depth and adjust accordingly by communicating your actual sampling depth with your soils lab to assure accurate fertilizer recommendations. Due to mineralization, soils have more nutrients readily available nearer the soil surface, so deeper sampling depths can dilute the samples and increase nutrient supplement recommendations.

Keep in mind that soil sampling may not reduce the overall cost of fertilizer needed but will help ensure appropriate application rates, which can result in a better yield. Additionally, moisture is the most limiting factor in pasture production, not fertility. You can apply all the fertilizer in the world but doing so in a drought won’t help plants grow. Fertilizer applications on dry land areas, especially for nitrogen, should be based on expected moisture.

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