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Early Season Nitrogen Fertilizer Application for Pastures

John Hanchar, Farm Business Management
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

April 1, 2013


  • Mid April nitrogen fertilizer applications can be expected to increase the amount of forage available to pastured dairy cows during the early part of the grazing season - for example, through early June.
  • Expected increases in profit associated with additional early season nitrogen fertilizer applications are dependent upon the extent to which the producer can convert increased forage availability attributed to early nitrogen fertilizer application into reduced total mixed ration (TMR) purchased.
  • Expected changes in profit are sensitive to the expected reduction in TMR purchased, expected TMR price, expected nitrogen needed, and expected price of nitrogen, suggesting that producers develop analyses specific to the farm business.

A Question for Analysis
The following question resulted from producer interest in identifying the optimal mix of stored and pasture sourced feeds. Stored feeds include those grown and/ or purchased, including, for example, a purchased TMR.

Does it make sense to produce additional forage to be grazed in pastures early in the grazing season via an early season application of nitrogen fertilizer given milk production goals, and given that feed needs are to be met using the optimal mix of pasture sourced feed and purchased TMR?

Partial Budgeting
One measure that producers use to evaluate possible changes in practices is the expected change in profit. Profit equals the total value of production minus the costs of inputs used in production. Expected change in profit equals the expected change in total value of production minus the expected change in costs. Analysts construct a partial budget to estimate the expected change in profit associated with a proposed change in the farm business, for example, early season application of nitrogen fertilizer to pastures.

Selected Assumptions
  • Number of cows - constant for proposed and current: 65
  • Acres of pasture for May and early June - constant for proposed and current: 90
  • Number of days grazed for analysis - constant for proposed and current: 35
  • Production target (lbs. of milk per cow per day) - constant for proposed and current: 50 to 60
  • Fall freshening - constant for proposed and current
  • Average future year, before tax, marginal analysis
  • Initial expected reduction in purchased TMR (lbs. as fed per animal per day): 20
  • Initial Purchased TMR costs ($ per lb. as fed): 0.09
  • Initial additional pounds of nitrogen applied per acre in mid April: 50
  • Initial price per pound of nitrogen ($): 0.81
  • Machinery operating costs, and labor cost for nitrogen application ($ per acre): 7


Table 1. Expected Change in Profit Associated with a Proposed Change in the Farm Business -- Proposed: Mid April Nitrogen Fertilizer Application on Pastures Vs. Current: No Mid April Nitrogen Fertilizer Application on Pastures.

Note: Results reflect initial assumptions.

Analysts acknowledge that they are more comfortable with some assumptions than others with respect to values and their uncertainty. Analysts employ sensitivity analysis to evaluate possible impacts of different assumptions on results (Please see Tables 2 and 3).

Table 2. Expected Change in Profit by Expected Reduction in TMR Purchased by Expected Nitrogen Application Needed.

Table 3. Expected Change in Profit by Expected TMR Price by Expected Nitrogen Price.

To place the results in Tables 1 through 3 in context, consider that net farm income without appreciation per cow, a measure of profit, was $648 and $696 for the same 24 intensive grazing dairy farms in 2010 and 2011, respectively (2012. DFBS: Intensive Grazing Farms New York 2011.). Recall that the analyses above assumed a herd size of 65 cows.

Alternative Analyses

One alternative analysis would examine the situation where increased forage availability from pastures displaces grown feeds assuming milk production goals remain constant. Costs of production associated with grown feeds will be key factors.

A second analysis would examine the situation where increased forage availability from pastures translates to increased milk production assuming TMR feeding for the proposed and current remains constant. Expected increases in milk sold and any related costs will be key factors.

Partial budgeting would still be used, but the analyses would look different from the analysis reported here.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, including developing analysis for your farm business, then please contact John Hanchar.

Table 1: Expected Changes in Total Value of Production (pdf; 86KB)











Upcoming Events

Beginning Farmer/Hobby Farmer Workshop $5/pp, class size is limited, so pre-register by April 15th!

April 27, 2019
9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Canandaigua, NY

This hands-on workshop is for beginning or part-time farmers who would like to improve their farm machinery skills, learn to properly and safely maintain their equipment to protect their investment. If you have been thinking about buying a tractor, new or used, two-wheel or four-wheel drive, compact or utility or more come join us. Topics include: selecting the right size/type tractor for the job; basic maintenance; staying safe around tractors and equipment; attaching implements properly; and information about ROPS and SMV's. There will be time for questions.

Pre-registration requested by April 15, 2019 email Amy with your name, address, and phone number or call 585-394-3977 x 429.
Fee: $5.00/person. Class size is limited.

2019 Pastured Poultry Seminar, lunch included so please register by May 10th! $25/person

May 18, 2019
Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.w/ coffee & donuts with the Program running from 9:00 a.m. - 5 p. m.
Attica, NY

The main speaker this year is Eli Reiff of Mifflinburg Pennsylvania. Eli raises broilers, turkeys, sheep, and beef, all on pasture. Topics to be covered will include the pasture, feed and nutrition, marketing, costs, and much more. As we grow as farm operators and get bigger, we may not pay as much attention to the basics as we should. So those areas are where we will start, and then expand to cover the group's interests.

Mike Badger, Director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association will also be available for a round-table discussion. Plans are to have representatives from Farm Bureau, NYCAMH for farm health and safety, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, as well as others.

Calling all 9th-12th graders! 4th Annual Precision Agriculture Day at Genesee Community College

May 21, 2019
9:00 am - 1:30 pm Register by Friday May 10th! $15/per person includes lunch
Batavia, NY

Calling all 9th-12th graders!  We have an exciting new program for students interested in technology, science, engineering, and agriculture!
Would you like to:
  • Learn about how Drones collect information
  • Check out some potential career opportunities that have new and ever-changing technology
  • Learn how these technologies can be used in our own backyards in WNY
  • Discover potential and exciting career opportunities


Producers Previously Enrolled in the LGM Program Now Eligible for MPP

Dairy Producers Previously Enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin Program Now Eligible for 2018 Margin Protection Program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that dairy producers who elected to participate in the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy Cattle Program (LGM-Dairy) now have the opportunity to participate in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) for 2018 coverage. Sign-up will take place March 25 through May 10, 2019.
Eligible producers can enroll during the sign-up period at their local USDA service center. To locate your office, visit

Smart Farming Team Technical Assistance Grant Application

The Labor Ready Farmer Project is offering grants to provide up to 12 hours of Technical Assistance (TA) consulting services to farms who want to make improvements to their farm's processes in hiring, training, managing or evaluating employees. Applicants will choose from one of the following four areas for TA assistance and identify a specific project. If selected they will be matched with a "Smart Farming Team" of consultants who will provide one on one technical assistance.
Please complete this application and send to Nicole Waters, Beginning Farm Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program. The form can be submitted by email, mail or in-person at the address listed below. Please feel free to call or email with any questions.

Nicole Waters - Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator
Plant Science Building, Room 15b
Tower Road, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-255-9911

Applications accepted on a rolling basis.

USDA Announces January Income over Feed Cost Margin Triggers First 2019 Dairy Sa

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2019 ? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced this week that the January 2019 income over feed cost margin was $7.99 per hundredweight, triggering the first payment for eligible dairy producers who purchase the appropriate level of coverage under the new but yet-to-be established Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, is a voluntary risk management program for dairy producers that was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. DMC offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that sign up for 
DMC will open by mid-June of this year. At the time of sign up, producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $8.00 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January 2019.

For example, a dairy operation with an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) that elects the $9.50 coverage level for 50 percent of its production could potentially be eligible to receive $1,887.50 for January.

Sample calculation:
$9.50 - $7.99 margin = $1.51 difference
$1.51 times 50 percent of production times 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,887.50

The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 50 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $2,250.

Sample calculation:
3,000,000 times 50 percent = 1,500,000/100 = 15,000 cwt. times 0.150 premium fee = $2,250

Operations making a one-time election to participate in DMC through 2023 are eligible to receive a 25 percent discount on their premium for the existing margin coverage rates.

"Congress created the Dairy Margin Coverage program to provide an important financial safety net for dairy producers, helping them weather shifting milk and feed prices," FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said. "This program builds on the previous Margin Protection Program for Dairy, carrying forward many of the program upgrades made last year based on feedback from producers. We're working diligently to implement the DMC program and other FSA programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill."

Additional details about DMC and other FSA farm bill program changes can be found at

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1