Regardless of nutrient sources, here are some facts to keep in mind, says Mitchell:

• A dry ton of grass forage contains about 50-10-40 pounds N-P2O5-K2O. These nutrients must come from the soil either as residual nutrients or direct fertilization. Because our soils are typically low in soil organic matter, we must provide almost all the N needed by the crop.

• We can grow a little grass without fertilization because Mother Nature usually gives us about 20 to 30 pounds of N per acre per year in rainfall.

• Legumes can provide up to 150 pounds of N per acre, enough to produce up to 3 tons of dry matter per acre.

• Soils high in organic matter are more productive. They hold moisture, drain better, and provide mineralized N to the growing grass crop. The University of Missouri soil testing lab recognizes this by crediting between 5 and 40 pounds N per acre per percent soil organic matter depending upon the soil texture and the season of the year.

• How much a producer fertilizes usually depends upon how much forage he needs and how much he can afford to spend.

• Grazing livestock recycles nutrients. They don’t remove much from the land. Therefore, good grazing management is important to get as much out of applied nutrients as possible.

• Removing hay removes a lot of nutrients.

Keeping these facts in mind, says Mitchell, Alabama producers can get the most out of their fertilizer budget with one of several available alternatives.

First, he advises, producers should soil test. Applying fertilizer without having taken a soil test amounts to guessing how much fertilizer is needed. Applying too much fertilizer is a waste of money; applying too little will result in less-than-optimum forage production.

“Auburn University’s soil test recommendations assume a high level of management and production and are based on the assumption that the forage produced can and will be used. Be sure to follow liming recommendations on soil tests. More than half the soil samples for forage tested at the laboratory at Auburn University have a pH too acid for best production and need agricultural limestone to correct this.