Fertilising During Drought - Should I or Shouldn't I?

26th Mar 2019
Fertilising during drought – should I or shouldn’t I?
Advice from Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Pastures Agronomists, Georgie Oakes and Jeff Lowien
  • If I don’t put fertiliser out this year will it affect pasture production when rain does eventually fall?
This question always arises when we are in drought so we have put the following points together to help you make a decision about whether or not to skip this year’s fertiliser topdressing program.
Firstly, following drought conditions, soil phosphorus (P) levels will have increased slightly because there is no plant growth drawing on P reserves. Also, when it is dry, soil chemical reactions release some of the P that is normally fixed to the soil resulting in more available P following rain – in the short term. You can take advantage of this but remember it doesn’t last forever so eventually (in about 6 months’ time) you should recommence your fertilising program.
Secondly, before applying fertiliser make sure you have the pasture composition and population that will respond to fertiliser.
Clovers/legumes are the main species that respond to phosphorus and sulphur (superphosphate), so they need to be present to get the full benefit of the fertiliser applied. Please be mindful that if your pasture has been thinned significantly by the drought, you will not receive the full return from the fertiliser.
The most important consideration however, is whether the extra quantity and quality of feed produced by applying fertiliser will be fully utilised by your livestock. Livestock numbers for most producers are significantly lower than in “normal” seasons therefore, not as much feed will be required this year to maintain the lower livestock numbers.
Finances will no doubt be limited following the drought which will be the overriding factor in the end. If you can’t afford to maintain your topdressing program this year, your production is unlikely to suffer too much.
If your budget allows, prioritise the paddocks that you apply fertiliser to, taking account of the suitable pasture base, pasture type (introduced compared with natives), soil nutrient levels and the livestock production required from each paddock.
For advice and information on fertiliser, pasture and cropping on your farm contact Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Agronomists, Jeff Lowien in Glen Innes on 0427 102 680 or Georgie Oakes in Inverell on 0409 855 704.

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