Don’t Forget About Lime

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Soil fertility is critical to any forage-based livestock operation. Without proper nutrient availability to forage plants, they cannot grow, and will not produce sufficient feed for livestock.

Nutrient availability is largely dependent on soil pH, or soil acidity levels. The pH index 0-14, with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the least (AKA basic), and 7 considered neutral. For tall fescue and orchardgrass production, a pH range of 5.7-6.5 is generally considered ideal. Macronutrients, or the “big three” (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) required for plant growth, are much less available for plant use outside of this pH range. Other nutrients are also most available in this pH range as well. Research has described greater tall fescue and orchardgrass root mass and plant size, as well as quicker establishment in soils with correct pH than those with a pH outside of the ideal range. Not only does improved nutrient bioavailability increase plant growth, but it also prevents nutrient leaching, which can be harmful to the environment.

In the Southeast, unamended soils typically fall below the ideal pH range above, with some being as low as 4.0. This is especially true for red clay soils found in Stokes County. Soil pH is amended through lime application, which is ground limestone. Lime is one of the most economical soil amendments and arguably the most important, as fertilizer applied to soil with a low pH is not available for plant use. Because of this, soil testing, and lime application if recommended, are the first steps to successful pasture renovation, rejuvenation, or even maintenance. Soil testing is always recommended prior to applying any soil amendments to prevent over or under application, and the resulting loss of profit. Fall is a great time to apply lime, as it will have plenty of time to be effective before the onset of spring forage growth.

Questions about lime application, or anything else? Contact N.C. Cooperative Extension in Stokes County at 336-593-8179

You can also learn more about liming at this Noble Foundation publication.