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Is Soil Health Part of Your Fertilizer Program?

December 5, 2018

By Katie Raver, Dairy Technical Sales Manager

When you think about improving forage quality, what factors come to mind? Often times its harvest season, inoculants, fertilizer programs, and plant genetics. What about soil health? If this isn’t on the top of your list, research shows it likely should be. 

Soil health includes many factors such as physical and chemical characteristics, organic matter concentration and biological activity. Healthy soil has better water uptake and drainage, a sufficient supply of nutrients, and often lower pest and weed pressure. All of these factors lead to a more efficient crop with lower inputs. 

Definitions of soil health are different depending on the ultimate goal of the producer. To dairy producers, their goal is to provide enough quality forage to feed the herd and keep their feed costs as effectively as possible. Soil health is a key component in this equation. 

So how can we impact soil health?

Like our animal operations, excellent health begins with good nutrition and management. As part of the dairy industry, we are all aware of how important taking care of the rumen microorganisms is to maximizing efficiency. We feed the bugs, In turn, they will feed the cow most of her energy requirements. However, we often forget how important it is to also feed our soil microbes.

These soil microbes are fundamental to healthy soil for many reasons. The zone where the plant and the soil meet is called the Rhizosphere or root zone. This area is very important to plant nutrition. The exchange between the roots of the plant, the soil, and the microbes is what gives the plant essential nutrients to grow. Optimal soil health and fertility will help the plant to reach its maximum genetic potential.

Like the rumen, microbes in the soil need organic matter and protein to thrive. A major component of many fertilizer programs is manure. Using manure as fertilizer not only allows us to dispose of a byproduct of milk production, but it can also provide valuable nutrients to the soil and microbes. However, some of these nutrients may not be readily available to the microbes or to the plant. 

In order to make the most out of this manure, the carbon sources need to be balanced for the speed of degradation to ensure adequate energy and protein supply for microbial reproduction. 

L-CBF (Liquid-Carbon Based Fertilizer) BOOST® provides a rapidly available carbon source so these microbes can begin to multiply. The microbes are then able to begin to break down the fiber and other nutrients from the manure. Microbes also keep these nutrients in a relatively stable form which will not leach from the soil. This has proven to be more efficient for the plant. 

Torkashvnad et al (2009) found decreased nitrogen loss when waste was composted with a molasses source. When the crop is planted in healthy soils with large microbial populations, it will have the nutrients it needs to grow right away. This will lead to a larger root and more root hairs to allow more efficient uptake nutrients and plant health.

Research has shown that plant stress such as pest pressure and environmental stress can lead to decrease fiber digestibility in plants. When plants are healthier from day one they are better able to deal with these stressors, and less impacted by the negative impacts. Trials done at QLF show that by boosting your fertilizer program with LCBF BOOST® we increase plant health and forage quality in a variety of ways. 

LCBF promotes higher protein in forages, an increase in digestible NDF, increased Milk/Ton, and increase RFQ. LCBF also increases nutrient consistency across plants in a field. These factors help get the most out of the forage we grow and promote optimal nutrition in our cows. 

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