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There are at least 19 chemical elements required for plant growth. Each chemical element has one or more specific functions within the plant, which cannot be taken over by another. As the plant grows, the daily demand for nutrients increases. Of the major nutrients, Mg is essential for both plant and animal growth and health, and K and Na are often involved in animal health issues.
It’s an easy concept to think of the soil as a bank. If you remove nutrients in products sold off the farm, then you need to replace them to keep a state of ‘nutrient balance’ in the bank.
You cannot consider fertilisers without knowledge of the soil. The key points will only be touched on here. In geological terms, New Zealand it's a very young country, with major ash storms from volcanos being deposited as recently as 1300AD. NZ Soils have all been surveyed, described, and mapped by what used to be the government's Soil Survey.
Nitrogen acts as a growth promoter in plants. It’s the easiest and usually the cheapest way to grow more feed.
Clover is in the legume family along with plants like lucerne, Lotus species, lupins and gorse. They all have little nodules on their roots where bacteria called Rhizobia species live.
When applying fertilisers such as superphosphate and basic slag this spring, remember to make sure animals don't ingest fertiliser with the pasture.
Most farmers think they know how to manage pastures by moving stock around the paddocks, but there’s more to it than that. Pasture is the cheapest livestock feed - when it’s grazed.
The farm is constantly covered in tall grass, and weeds, especially docks and thistles, are always rampant. From a distance it looks like an over-mature hay paddock.
What to do with a feed surplus: Make hay, silage or “baleage” with pasture during the spring flush. Making hay in autumn is almost impossible, because shorter days are not hot enough for good drying.
This is the first in a series of four articles on pasture renovation by Dr Deric Charlton.