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If you don’t test, you don’t know

Economic truths have forced some producers to cut back on nutrients for their forage, 
but a little phosphorus can go a long ways

Don’t forget about the phosphorus.

Forage producers were reminded of the importance of the much maligned nutrient during the province’s annual Hay and Silage Day at the Friedensfeld Community Centre recently.

“The perception out there is that we’re awash in phosphorus,” said John Heard of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. “But the reality is that in much of Manitoba… we’ve actually been in a phosphorus deficit the last couple of years.

“We’ve had some very high yields and we’ve removed more phosphorus than what has been applied,” the soil fertility specialist said.

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Demonstrating the importance of phosphorus in alfalfa stands, he pointed to studies showing a three-times increase in yield with an application of the nutrient.

“Phosphorus is the one we really need to focus in on, it affects not only yield, but protein because it produces a more vigorous plant and quality,” he told producers.

Beef producers growing their own forage have been most impacted by low phosphorus in recent years, especially when compared to dairy farmers that tend to operate in a more contained system, Heard said.

“With beef producers since BSE… some producers have actually been operating and managing their forages in kind of a survival strategy, low input and yet still looking for production,” he said, adding that beef producers who have cut back on nutrient application when it comes to their forages have done so due to economic realities.

But properly applied phosphorus has benefits worth the investment, said Heard, stressing the importance of testing feed, plant tissues and soil to determine if you need to apply the nutrient.

“Phosphorus or potassium… those are on your feed test already, and if it looks like they’re in the lower range, that would be the trigger for further investigation. Maybe it’s time for a soil test or a directed tissue analysis to sort that out,” he said.

Testing makes sense, said Chris Kletke, a farmer from Brunkild who attended the session.

“I’m just trying to maximize what we’re growing at our farm… and we’ve seen positive increases,” he said. “So it’s a balance between tissue and soil testing, then the feed analysis and quite literally, yield… we scale what we haul off the fields.”

But when Heard asked those in attendance for a show of hands to indicate who was testing their soils and plant tissues, few were raised.

“The vast majority of forages aren’t tested in Manitoba… those that are, are usually tested by consultants looking for a place to dump hog manure,” he said.

Testing is also needed to avoid overapplication of phosphorus, as well, in addition to identify depleted areas, Heard added.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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