Three-year demonstration completed on hay fertility in Chippewa County

On-farm demonstration looks at three-year impact of various hay fertilization programs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Yield check on Aug. 15, 2017. All photos by Jim Isleib, MSU Extension.

Yield check on Aug. 15, 2017. All photos by Jim Isleib, MSU Extension.

Michigan State University Extension initiated an on-farm demonstration in 2015 in cooperation with host farmers Bruce and Wayne Berkompas of Rudyard, Michigan. The goal was to compare the results of moderate annual lime application (1 ton per acre, surface applied) and various annual fertilizer rates, including no fertilizer, fertilizer at “nutrient removal” rates and fertilizer at “build-up” rates.

Six strips were established, treated with lime and fertilizer, and yield checked in 2015 on a typical timothy/birdsfoot trefoil hay field on clay soil under a single cut harvest system. The next year (2016), these strips were each divided into two treatment sections. One section of each strip did not receive any additional lime or fertilizer in 2016 and 2017. The other section of each strip was soil tested in 2016 and given a lime and fertilizer treatment as in 2015, with the exception that the build-up fertilizer rate was calculated based on the new, 2016 MSU soil test report for each strip.

The yield goal was set at 2 tons per acre, as it was in 2015. The 2016 fertilizer and lime treatments were intended to duplicate the approach used in 2015 on a part of each area and leave part of each area treated in 2015 as an untreated area in 2016 to observe any carry-over effect from the 2015 fertilizer and lime treatments. All treated strips were soil tested again in spring 2017, but no further applications of lime or fertilizer were made. Yield checks were made on all treatments in 2017 to observe carry-over effect, if any, of the single and two-year fertilizer and lime treatments made in 2015 and 2016. A light application of semi-solid manure was made on the trial area in spring 2017.

Using a ballpark figure for fertilizer cost of $540 per ton, a simple economic estimate can be made to compare yield increase over three years based on fertilizer application in 2015 only and in 2015 plus 2016. Fertilizer spreading cost of $7.50 per acre is included. Fertilizer and application cost is divided by the increase in total three-year yield to generate the breakeven value of the additional hay needed to justify the cost of fertilization. If the actual value of the extra hay is greater than breakeven, then the fertilizer may be justified. Because the treatments were not replicated, the yield and economic estimates should be considered as demonstration only, not as research results.

Yield data based on 2015-only fertilizer application over 2015-2017 period

Fertilizer rates

2015 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

2016 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

2017 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

Total 3-year yield

Breakeven hay value to justify fertilizer cost ($/tons dry matter)

No fertilizer

1.6

1.5

2.5

5.6

Not available

Crop removal fertilizer rate in 2015: 272 lbs. 17-9-28 per acre

2.8

1.6

2.9

7.3

$47.61

Build-up fertilizer rate in 2015: 460 lbs. 10-22-24 per acre

3.1

1.8

3.0

7.9

$57.26

 

Yield data based on 2015 and 2016 fertilizer applications

Fertilizer rates

2015 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

2016 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

2017 yield (tons dry matter/acre)

Total 3-year yield

Breakeven hay value to justify fertilizer cost ($/tons dry matter)

No fertilizer

1.6

1.4

2.8

5.8

Not available

Crop removal fertilizer rate in 2015: 272 lbs. 17-9-28 per acre

Crop removal fertilizer rate in 2016: 186 lbs. 0-14-42 per acre

458 total lbs. fertilizer

2.8

1.8

3.2

7.8

$69.33

Build-up fertilizer rate in 2015: 460 lbs. 10-22-24 per acre

Build-up fertilizer rate in 2016: 261 lbs. 0-21-32 per acre

721 total lbs. fertilizer

3.1

2.1

2.8

8.0

$95.30

Chippewa County Hay Fertility Demonstration

Chippewa County hay fertility demonstration. View larger image.

Yield check by treatment

Yield check (tons per acre) by treatment and year. View larger image.

Summary

  • Annual yield checks did not suggest any difference between lime application treatments.
  • Yields based on 2015-only application of fertilizer suggests carry-over impact on yield into 2016 and 2017.
  • Single-year application at the crop removal rate suggests the most favorable impact on economic hay production at this location over the three-year period. Single-year application at the build-up rate appears to be the next most favorable.
  • Repeat annual applications of crop removal and build-up rates in 2015 and 2016 suggest improved hay yields compared to 2015-only fertilization, but at a higher cost per ton of dry matter than a single application over the same period.

This demonstration suggests fertilizing at crop removal or build-up rate every third year may provide a more economic approach to increasing hay yields than annual or two-out-of-three-year application in this type of system and environment. 

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