It's getting more common for people to adamantly feed hay back on the ground from which they cut it, or to buy hay and consider it part of their fertility program.

That's because the amount of soil nutrients carried off in a hay crop is shockingly large. Rocky Lemus, Mississippi State University forage specialist, says experience tells him this is less understood in the southeastern U.S. Lemus also has forage experience in Iowa, Texas, Virginia and Ohio.

He says he always found dairy producers to be very knowledgeable about the nutrient level of forages they purchase, but not as much for beef producers. This lack of knowledge hurts beef producers in two ways.

First, they may be making bad purchases in a very expensive hay market, or they may be putting up low-quality hay, which is still an expensive input.

Second, the lack of proper fertilizer management hurts plant nutrient uptake and efficiency.

"In Mississippi, it's not uncommon for farmers to just put on some nitrogen or triple 17 without really knowing what is the optimum pH and what their soils need," he says. "Sometimes they complain about the cost of a soil test, which is $6/sample, but we often see them spending $500 on fertilizer they don't need."

In Mississippi, Lemus says each ton of bermudagrass hay removes about 46 lbs. of nitrogen, 12 lbs. of phosphate (P2O5), and 35 lbs. of potash (K2O).

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