‘Improved’ pasture does not mean fertilized

There’s a lot of confusion in the media about Florida’s cattle ranches, according to Matt Pearce, president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

A common misconception: Some people think ranchers fertilize their pastures every year with so much phosphorus that excess runs off into waterways.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Matt Pearce shared this photo of cattle grazing on improved pasture.

At a recent South Florida Water Management District meeting Mr. Pearce explained that ranchers could not afford to fertilize all of their pastures even if they wanted to. Some don’t use any fertilizer at all, with the exception of the natural fertilizer dropped by the cattle. Those who do use fertilizer follow the Best Management Practices set by the Florida Department of Agriculture. They test the soil and the plant tissue to determine what type of fertilizer is needed and how much is needed. They fertilize only a small percentage of the ranch each year, rotating the next year to another section, if needed there.

Another misconception: Some people think the term “improved pasture” means the grass is fertilized every year. That’s just not true.

Improved pasture means the grass is not a plant native to Florida. Grass native to Florida is called “native pasture.”

Most of the “improved pasture” in Florida is Bahia. While Bahia is not native to Florida, it’s been here more than 100 years and it covers millions of acres of the state.

According to the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services, Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum Flugge) was introduced to Florida from Brazil in 1914 by the United States Department of Agriculture. It was originally used as a pasture grass on the sandy soils of the Southeastern United States. Additional varieties have been introduced since that time for use as lawn grasses. Bahia grass is a low-maintenance grass that does well with limited water and fertilizer inputs.

Bahia grass forms an extensive, deep root system. It sustains better than other grasses in infertile, sandy soils and does not require high inputs of water or fertilizer. During extended drought periods, Bahia grass will go into a drought-induced dormancy and turn brown until conditions become favorable for regrowth.

Sources for this article included “Bahia grass for Florida Lawns” by L.E. Trenholm, J.B. Unruh and J.L. Cisar.

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