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Fertilising for yield and quality in grass pastures and forage crops – Scoping study

Project start date: 15 May 2013
Project end date: 17 July 2014
Publication date: 01 October 2014
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: National
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​Sown pasture rundown and declining soil fertility for forage crops are too serious to ignore with losses in beef production of up to 50% across Queensland. The feasibility of using strategic applications of nitrogen (N) fertiliser to address these losses was assessed by analysing a series of scenarios using data drawn from published studies, local fertiliser trials and expert opinion. While N fertilser can dramatically increase productivity (growth, feed quality and beef production gains of over 200% in some scenarios), the estimated economic benefits, derived from paddock level enterprise budgets for a fattening operation, were much more modest.  
In the best-performing sown grass scenarios, average gross margins were doubled or tripled at the assumed fertiliser response rates, and internal rates of return of up to 11% were achieved. Using fertiliser on forage sorghum or oats was a much less attractive option and, under the paddock level analysis and assumptions used, forages struggled to be profitable even on fertile sites with no fertiliser input. The economics of nitrogen fertilising on grass pasture were sensitive to the assumed response rates in both pasture growth and liveweight gain.  Consequently, targeted research is proposed to re-assess the responses used in this analysis, which are largely based on research 25-40 years ago when soils were generally more fertile and pastures less rundown.

More information

Project manager: Tom Davison
Primary researcher: Department of Agriculture & Fisheri