Periodic soil testing, followed by liming if pH is too low, and fertilization according to results of the soil test are the most important practices of grass management. No other management practice has been shown to have more impact on long-term meat or milk production. Fields used for pasture should be tested every two to three years, but those fields used for silage or hay production should be tested every year. Liming, the addition of limestone or other basic amendments to the soil, is necessary in many areas to raise soil pH, depending on the grass species present. Although there is variation among species, grasses generally grow best when pH levels are between 6.0 and 7.0, in part because phosphorus (P) and essential micronutrients are most available at these pHs. The major nutrients required by grasses are nitrogen (N), P, and potassium (K). N, needed by grass plants to carry on photosynthesis, produces the largest growth response in grass and is needed in relatively large quantities, because, unlike legumes, grasses cannot fix their own nitrogen. P and N have important roles in water quality issues, contributing to eutrification (P) of water sources and high nitrate levels in water (N). It is imperative to manage these nutrients for the optimum benefit of the grass and the environment. Other nutrients are required in lesser amounts, but these are less likely to limit crop growth.
Two primary factors to consider when selecting perennial forage species and varieties are persistence and heading date (inflorescence emergence). Grasses vary in their tolerance to soil acidity and moisture extremes, so they must be selected for the environment in which they will be grown. Maturity is the single most important factor controlling forage quality in grasses, assuming no antiquality components, because of the strong negative relationship between maturity and digestibility. Awareness of heading date allows for harvest to occur at optimum maturity. Because heading dates among grass species and varieties within species can vary greatly, selecting several varieties and/or species can spread out the spring harvest window.
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