Dr. Cheryl Mackowiak
The intent of my extension program is to promote good soil stewardship and provide an understanding and appreciation of soil fertility and its interaction with other environmental influences on plant mineral nutrition. My extension programs represent two areas:
Disseminating soil nutrient management trends in forage sustainability
Within the past six years, fertilizer costs have increased over 100%, thereby increasing the proportion of a grower’s total operational budget from roughly 12% to ≥30%, particularly for forage hay crops. The producer perspective is that there is a need to reduce the nutrient management costs for their individual forage systems, without jeopardizing production. Promotion of the use of soil sampling reports by county extension faculty and forage producers goes a long way to help with fertilization recommendations. Basic application recommendations and considerations have been developed for some waste products and liming products applied to forages. Over the past 2 years, we have helped to demonstrate the incorporating of perennial peanut forage into a grass-based pasture in order to create a low fertilizer input, but high quality pasture system
Diagnosing forage mineral nutrition and environmental influences
Many forage species are not managed with the same degree of attention to their nutrient requirements as those crops labeled as “cash crops. The IFAS recommendations for forages are the most limited in scope as compared with many of the other commodity crops. Extension calls and visits in response to questionable forage nutrient status are among the most common in forage production and demand some of the highest interest among participants in field days and various forage workshops. In many cases weed, disease, pest, or N leaching losses are aggravated by poor plant nutrition. Training the county extension faculty to identify when and how to test forage tissue, how to match results with soil testing, and provide information on some of the most commonly encountered nutritional diseases can save the producer’s current crop and ensure better production of subsequent crops. This program has been used to educate those involved with forage production and environmental protection of the need for balanced plant nutrition and provide awareness of factors that will affect plant nutrient uptake. Approximately 40% of the North Florida forage producers who either call their local agent or my office directly are now aware of the benefits of prudent use of tissue sampling to help diagnose fertilization imbalances, which are up from less than 10% in 2004. High-profile locations, such the Moultrie Georgia Ag Expo, major dairy and cattle producers in Georgia and Florida and field days are used to educate the public on when to sample plant tissue and diagnostic symptoms of some of the more common problems. Due to unusual weather, grass diseases were decimating several bahiagrass pastures and hay fields. We developed a diagnostic tool to help standardize a set of questions the county extension agents can ask the producer. The information will better help us to understand the factors contributing to disease outbreaks and how to manage around them. Take-all disease was prominent in several bahiagrass pastures. We suspect high soil pH and a lack of a balanced fertilization program (applying only N fertilizer) made the plants more susceptible to the disease. We will implement the diagnostic tool in spring, 2012.