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Fall Soil Testing is a Good Investment

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By: Jerrold Tesmer, University of Minnesota Extension in Fillmore & Houston Counties

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension office can provide area residents with their specific soil conditions, and ultimately offer more accurate advice and consultation to their questions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet, are available at both the Fillmore and Houston County Extension Offices. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected and mailed to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, located on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul Campus, the results are processed within three to five days and returned to the landowner.

Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. Please contact me in Caledonia or Preston, at either Extension office, if assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at or
Fertilizer recommendations in Minnesota are based on "Fertilizer Guidelines for Agronomic Crops in Minnesota" BU-06240-S Revised 2011, Daniel E. Kaiser, Extension Soil Scientist; John A. Lamb, Extension Soil Scientist; and Roger Elieason, Director, University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory.

By: Julie Sievert, Extension Educator, Sibley County
Christian Lilienthal, Extension Educator, Nicollet County
Mike Donnelly, Extension Educator, Rice & Steele Counties

Do you have the dream of owning acreage in the country? Do you have an existing acreage that is in need of a plan and strategies for the best possible results? The Living on the Land Workshop Series, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, will equip you with the education and resources to be successful.

The eight-week course is designed to arm landowners with agricultural information to enable them to be good stewards of their land. The course will begin with goal-setting and individual property inventory, then address soil, plant, water and animal basics.

The Living on the Land curriculum addresses a growing need for information regarding small acreages. The series incorporates knowledge and experience from a team of instructors to address topics including: what do you have and what do you want, what you can do with your land, protecting water quality, what to do about weeds, lawn and pasture maintenance, getting down and dirty with soils, and caring for and managing your animals. The series also includes a farm tour.

The series will be taught by Extension educators and natural resource professionals at two locations. One of the locations is in Gaylord at the Sibley County Service Center. In Gaylord, the series will be held on Monday evenings from February 4th to March 25th. The second location is in Northfield at the Northfield Community Resource Center. In Northfield, the series will be held on Thursday evenings from March 7th to April 25th. Both workshops will run from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with light meals provided at each session.

Early registration is $175 until Monday, January 28 for the Gaylord location and Thursday, February 28 for the Northfield location. All registrations received after those dates will be $200. Each registration is valid for up to two people representing a single farm who will share materials. For example, a husband and wife team or two siblings may attend together. Benefits include useful educational publications, an educational farm tour, soil tests, a site visit/consultation from a University of Minnesota Extension educator in your area, as well as the tools to help you succeed with your goals and dreams on your country acreage.

For more information about the series in Gaylord, please contact Julie Sievert at 507-237-4100 or or Christian Lilienthal at 507-934-0360 or For questions regarding the Northfield location, please contact Mike Donnelly at 507-332-6109 or

Register now--space is limited at each location. Additional information and the Living on the Land workshop series brochure can be found on the Small Farms website.

Consider Cover Crops in 2012

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By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Jill Sackett, Extension Educator - Conservation Agronomist
University of Minnesota Extension / Rural Advantage

A wet spring and recent hail have left some Minnesota fields without a cash crop. The above average temperatures in spring and summer pushed ahead the small grain harvest. Fields without cover and those fields that have had the cash crop taken off can be planted into a cover crop. Other options for farmers include the use of tillage or herbicides to limit weed growth for the remainder of the summer and fall.

A cover crop is any crop grown between two cash crops. Cover crops could be utilized in areas where the cash crop has been taken off. Try planting a cover crop after your winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, barley, peas, sweet corn, or corn silage is harvested. Cover crops can even be worked into the corn-soybean rotation, especially when overseeded at the leaf yellowing stage. Be sure to check with Farm Service Agency and your crop insurance provider any time you intend to harvest or pasture a cover crop. Harvesting a cover crop may affect your crop insurance and your certified acres.

The benefits of utilizing cover crops in a rotation are numerous. Cover crops can reduce soil erosion from wind and rain, prevent soil crusting, improve water absorption and infiltration, and slow water from leaving the landscape. Protecting and improving our soils can help to conserve and improve the soil in your field. Soil quality will be improved and more water will be available for your future cash crops.

Many livestock producers look at cover crops as a way to maximize the production of forages and feed. Cover crops can be grown to supply some livestock forage needs. Cover crops also help to protect crop inputs that you have already spent for your cash crops. Many of the deep-rooted species scavenge nutrients from deeper in the soil and make them available for the next cash crop or future cash crops. Adding legume cover crops can also help to supply some nitrogen to the next cash crop or future cash crops.

Without cover on area fields there is no competition with grass and broadleaf weeds. No competition means that these weeds will be looking for the opportunity to grow and produce seed in your field. Utilize the cover crops to provide the competition for available moisture and nutrients, thus avoiding weed seed production for future generations of unwanted plants.

Choosing which species or mix to plant depends on your needs and goals, as well as the availability of the seed. There are a few main categories of cover crop species and those include grasses, legumes, and brassicas/mustards. Some of the utilized grasses include oats, triticale, millet and winter rye. The legumes commonly include clovers, field peas, alfalfa and vetches. The other category that is utilized is the brassicas/mustards. The most well-known of these is the tillage radish; it also includes canola, forage turnip and yellow mustard.

The same rules on planting timing apply for cover crops as other agronomic crops. Cover crops need to be planted when soil conditions are favorable and rainfall is adequate for germination and establishment.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council has numerous publications listed on its website,, as well as a web-based cover crop decision tool to assist farmers in choosing an appropriate cover crop for their situation. University of Minnesota Extension researchers and educators worked with a committee of farmers, agencies and organizations to help growers make the best decisions about cover crops. Minnesota's decision tool is available by utilizing the following link:

Following is some of a recent news release from the Minnesota NRCS on cover crops. For the entire news release click on the following link: Those in drought areas should be aware that the Minnesota NRCS State Conservationist Don Baloun has announced an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for producers in Minnesota impacted by the summer of 2012 drought.

USDA-NRCS will provide funding to producers to plant cover crops through EQIP. "This announcement is in response to the USDA Secretary Announcement on July 23, 2012 and NRCS' understanding of the heavy loss of hay and forage impacting livestock producers in Minnesota," said Baloun.

Minnesota NRCS is allocating $400k for a special EQIP sign-up that will take place from August 6th through 10th, 2012. The sign-up will focus on the planting of cover crops for supplemental livestock feed and erosion control. The focus area will be in the severely affected drought counties in southern and NW Minnesota. The counties included in the signup are: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Clay, Cottonwood, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Jackson, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Lincoln, Lyon, Mahnomen, Martin, Marshall, Mower, Murray, Nobles, Norman, Pennington, Pipestone, Polk, Red Lake, Redwood, Rock, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine. Producers interested in obtaining financial assistance for cover crops are encouraged to stop by their local USDA NRCS office.

Summer Creep Feeding Considerations

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By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Creep feeding beef calves can be a good way to provide supplemental nutrients to calves in a time when their nutrient demands are growing rapidly and forage quality and quantity in the pasture is declining. The process usually involves allowing calves access to feed or supplemental forage with fences that exclude the rest of the cow herd.

Creep feeding can be a controversial topic among beef producers, as some feel that the effects of creep feeding are not economical and can even be detrimental to the future of the calves, while other producers feel that creep-fed calves will be heavier, healthier, and transition better to the feedlot setting. Both of these views are correct, in certain circumstances.

First, creep feeding isn't always economical. In years when feed prices are high relative to calf prices, it may not make sense to spend the extra money on feed if the returns are low. Also, if you have high-milking cows with enough available forage, it is not usually economical to creep feed because the added calf weight can be gained through healthy cows.

Therefore, creep feeding spring-born calves in May and early June will not have much benefit for the average producer, since forage is usually plentiful and cows should still have adequate milk production to raise their calves. Creep feeding becomes more advantageous later in the summer when forage growth and milk production decline.

Finally, it is not advisable to creep feed early-maturing, smaller framed calves, especially on a high energy diet, as this will cause the calves to gain unwanted fat and will result in low performing cattle in a feedlot situation. This is especially true for heifer calves to be kept for replacement. There are many research studies that prove high fat levels on future replacement heifers at a young age could severely hinder their ability to become productive, functional cows in the future.

On the other hand, creep feeding is a definite advantage when feed prices are low relative to calf prices. Also, in dry years when pasture production is low or when cows are not producing much milk, it is a good idea to provide supplemental nutrition to the calves. This will not only benefit the calves, but the cows as well since the calves will likely be eating creep feed instead of grazing on the limited grass the cows desperately need.

Calves out of young cows will also benefit from creep feed. These cows usually produce less milk and have a higher energy requirement themselves since they are still growing. Creep feeding these calves will also keep the young mothers in better condition which will help the cows to breed back sooner for the following year.

Finally, purebred cattle producers will likely experience more benefit from creep feeding. The added feed will increase weaning weights and overall bloom to the calves, which will generally bring a premium price when sold as young bulls or replacement females.

So, as you contemplate whether or not to creep feed your calves, keep in mind that there isn't always a simple answer. What is economical for your neighbor's herd may not benefit your own operation. Consider your goals and expectations before creep feeding and make sure the economics are in your favor. In order to spend the extra money on feed, there should be a plan to capture that value back when the calves are marketed.

Electric Fencing for Livestock

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By Laura Kieser
Extension Educator, Carver and Scott Counties

There are many fencing options for livestock. One of the most economical choices is electric fencing. Electric fencing may have lower financial and labor investment compared to other fencing alternatives. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when designing your electric fence.

Layout: Decide where your fence is going to go and what type of livestock it will be used for. It is often helpful to draw a picture of what you want the fence to look like when it's completed. This will help you determine where gates, water and laneways should be. It will also help to plan where different types of posts will be located. When sketched on paper it is easy to make changes to your plan.

Materials: It is important to have a properly sized charger for the length of fence that you are constructing. The fence also needs to be properly grounded. A good rule of thumb for determining the length of ground rod needed is three feet of ground rod per Joule of charge on the charger. When building the fence you will need to consider how many wires to attach, what type and how many posts to install. Usually you want to have three or more lines of wire on perimeter fencing. Up to five lines may be needed on perimeter fencing for smaller livestock. The strength of the wire used will also vary depending on the type of livestock being contained. Higher gauge wire will have a longer life, but is stiffer to work with. Posts will vary in size. Wire should be galvanized or coted to prevent rust. Corner posts should be built from heavy, treated wood as they are supporting the fence. Posts along the fence can be steel, fiberglass or wood. These will maintain wire spacing around the fence line. When considering insulators to secure the wire to the posts, invest in porcelain polyethylene or wrap around insulators. Although these options may be slightly more expensive, they will pay for themselves in the long run.

Tools: You will need to purchase a few tools to make constructing your fence a manageable project. You can find wire strainers/ratchets that can adjust the tension on the fence. The strainer needs to be stronger than the wire you use. Tensions springs will help to tighten shorter stretches of the fence. A posthole digger and post driver will help with setting corner posts. A wire spinner will help you to layout lines of wire efficiently. A crimp tool used with crimp sleeves helps to connect wires while maintaining strength. Other useful tools that can be used, but are not specific to fence building include: pliers, hammers, and shovels.

When you start to build your fence, be sure of the legal boundary of your property. You wouldn't want to build a section of your fence on your neighbor's property. Remember that electric fencing is a "psychological barrier" so it is critical that livestock can see the fence. Be sure to limit temptations outside of the fence line. If your fence line is next to a wooded area, goats for example would be tempted to browse through the fence. Clearing a path around the fence takes the temptation away as well as making the fence easier to maintain.

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

The University of Minnesota Extension fields a number of questions regarding soil fertility and soil testing. The local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line offer soil testing assistance and are primary links to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, which provides routine soil testing and fertilizer recommendations for homeowners, farmers, florists, nursery workers and a number of other groups.

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line can provide advice and consultation with specific soil conditions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet are available at your local Extension offices or by contacting the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected it can be mailed or delivered to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory on the St. Paul Campus.

The sample will be processed and analysis will be provided in the selected area. Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. If assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results, please visit your local Extension office or call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at

Early Season Pasture Thistle Control

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By Jerry Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

When the grass started greening up, it also meant other less welcome plants will soon be appearing. Normally, early May is excellent for early season pasture weed control, but if this weather trend continues, consider moving the timing up. Plants that are easily controlled when small and tender become more difficult to control as they mature. Also, early control of pasture weeds allows more grass to grow and the pasture will support additional grazing.

There are a many broadleaf weeds to be concerned with, but Bull Thistle, Musk Thistle, and Canada Thistle seem to be most common. The good news is the process of controlling thistles often controls other broadleaf weeds.

Bull Thistle and Musk Thistle are biennials, which mean they take two years to complete their life cycle. They form a rosette (a flat group of leaves at ground level) and store food in their roots the first year and flower (produce seed) the second year. Control measures, chemical or mechanical, are most effective when applied during the first year's growth. If treatment is delayed until the second year, early season application of herbicide before bloom is important. In most cases you will have both years present in your pasture.

If you have only a minor problem with scattered plants, mechanical control can be effective. The rosettes are too generally too low to be mowed effectively, so digging the first year plants is your most dependable method. The second year growth can be mowed, but multiple trips will be needed to successfully prevent the thistles from producing flowers. Once you have flowers, you have seed. As a perennial, Canada Thistle can be a tougher weed to deal with. It not only produces seeds, it also spreads by underground rhizomes.

If you chose to use herbicide control, a number of choices are available. I counted fourteen options in the Grazing Restriction Table (page 41) in the U of M Extension Publication Plants Commonly Found in Established Minnesota Horse Pastures. Check it out at click on Agriculture, than Horses. Horse pastures have the same weeds as cow, sheep, and goat pastures.

Anytime you use herbicides reading the label is a must. The label will list any precautions and grazing limitations for milk and meat animals. However, many labels do not list horses. Extension Educator Krishona Martinson suggests horses should be excluded for seven to ten days after spraying.

This is another good argument for splitting pasture into multiple paddocks, not only will you increase grazing productivity, you have an opportunity to control weeds in each paddock When the animals are rotated out of a current pasture into a new one use that opportunity to dig, mow, or spray your thistles.

If you are trying to maintain a legume in your pastures, be aware that any of the broadleaf herbicides will eliminate both alfalfa and clovers. Mechanical control or spot spraying will be your only alternatives.

Fertilizing Grass Pastures

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By Jerrold Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

Are you looking for ways to get more out of your pasture? Have you ever soil tested your pasture? Do you treat your pasture like a valuable crop?

As with other crops, adequate fertilizer is needed for optimal economic production. This might mean being able to increase the number of animals grazing a particular pasture or have pastures last longer into the summer or fall. Soil testing is particularly valuable for determining phosphate and potash needs.

Nitrogen is usually the first nutrient we think of for grasses and grass mixtures. Grasses grown for pasture are a perennial crop. Nitrogen fertilizer guidelines are based on expected yield. The expected yield will vary with such factors as intended use, management intensity, and soil texture.

Nitrogen Guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures in Minnesota.

Nitrogen Table.bmp

Expected yields of 4 or more tons of dry matter per acre are reasonable for situations where soils have good water holding capacity and intensive management practices such as rotational grazing.

The time for nitrogen fertilizer application should match the growth pattern of forage grasses. The majority of grasses found in Minnesota are cool season grasses. With cool season grasses, the majority of growth takes place in late spring and early summer. Therefore, early spring application is suggested for these grasses.

Split application of nitrogen fertilizer is an option for intensive management situations when expected yields are greater than 4 ton per acre. If split application is an option, 75% of the nitrogen should be applied in early spring and 25% in late August.

The listed rates for rates for phosphate and potash can be taken from the results of your soil test. The needed fertilizer should be broadcast to established pastures in early spring for cool season grasses.

Phosphate fertilizer guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures.

Phosphorus Table.bmp

Potash fertilizer guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures.

Potassium Table.bmp

In some field crops, other nutrients have been found to be of value. Research trials in Minnesota have shown that forage grasses and grass mixtures have not responded to application to other nutrients in a fertilizer program. Therefore, none are suggested.

For more information on fertilizer recommendations in Minnesota consult "Fertilizer Guidelines for Agronomic Crops in Minnesota" BU-06240-S Revised 2011, Daniel E. Kaiser, Extension Soil Scientist; John A. Lamb, Extension Soil Scientist; and Roger Elieason, Director, University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. For more information, visit online:

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