Stockpiling Fescue and Orchardgrass

Clif Little, OSU Extension Guernsey County

Stockpiling fescue and orchard grass is generally considered an economical way to extend the grazing season and cut feed costs. The cost of fertilizer and application of nitrogen too late in the growing season will affect the economics of stockpiling. In order to maximize yield from stockpiled forage, one must select a field that is suitable for late season grazing, and one that will not be utilized after July 31st.

A timely application of nitrogen can grow an additional ton of high quality forage yet this fall, and significantly extend the grazing season.

Stockpiling has some inherent risks. In order for it to work correctly, the following conditions are required; application of nitrogen six weeks prior to the end of the growing season, rain shortly after this application, and favorable growing conditions. When all variables are met, one can grow enough additional forage to cover the cost. Stockpiling requires the application of approximately fifty units of actual nitrogen (roughly 110lbs of urea) per acre.

To analyze the economics of stockpiling, review the example in the table below. For the example, the assumed yield of stockpiling is 2000 lbs. of D.M. (dry matter) per acre. Stockpiling costs included are; the application of fifty units of nitrogen as urea 46-0-0 at various prices per ton (left hand column), and an additional $6 per acre spreading cost. The total cost of expenses per ton of stockpiled forage is then subtracted from the value of hay (D.M.) per ton, for a net stockpiling value. All figures are rounded and approximate per acre, (difference in cost per ton of D.M., positive numbers favor stockpiling).

Stockpiling Net Value

Price of Hay Dry Matter per Ton
Cost of Urea $30 $40 $50 $60 $100 $150
$550 -$5.89  $4.11 $14.11 $24.11 $64.11 $114.11
$500 -$3.17  $6.83 $16.83 $26.83 $66.83 $116.83
$400  $2.26  $12.26 $22.26 $32.74 $72.26 $122.26

As the table illustrates, stockpiling can be profitable, if the forage has a high value. The dollar values represent potential profit or loss per acre. The table suggests that the “breakeven point” when fertilizer is $400/ton, and hay D.M. price is $60/ton is approximately 924 additional pounds of pasture dry matter to cover cost. The higher the value of the forage D.M. the less forage growth we need to cover costs.

One should also note that stockpiling has a risk. If it does not rain enough after the nitrogen application, and throughout the remainder of the growing season, one’s initial investment may not be recouped. In addition, early frost or freeze could hinder production, affecting the profitability of stockpiling. In this example, no account for improved forage quality was included. I would recommend the 3rd week of August as the absolute latest period of time to apply nitrogen with the hope of producing an extra ton of dry matter per acre. There is no way of knowing exactly when the end of the growing season will be, and the later it gets, the more risk taken in recovering costs.

Stockpiling may be a worthwhile risk this year, as forage prices seem to be rising. Allowing a pasture to grow for late season grazing can produce additional forage, even without the application of additional nitrogen. Consider developing a grazing system that enhances the harvest efficiency of your pasture resource. Contact the USDA/NRCS office for a grazing management plan. Consider stockpiling fescue and orchardgrass pastures as a means of extending your grazing season and increasing profitability.