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Economic effects and Energy Use Efficiency of Incorporating Alfalfa and Fertilizer into Grass- Based Pasture Systems

Authors: M. Khakbazan, S. L. Scott, H. C. Block, C. D. Robins, W. P. McCaughey


A ten-year grazing study was conducted at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Brandon Research Centre in Manitoba to study the effect of alfalfa inclusion and fertilizer (N, P, K, and S) addition on economics and efficiency of non-renewable energy use in meadow brome grass-based pasture systems for beef production. Fertilizing grass-only or alfalfa-grass pastures to full soil test recommendations improved pasture productivity, but did not improve profitability compared to unfertilized pastures. Fertilizing grass-only pastures resulted in the highest net loss of any pasture management strategy in this study. Adding alfalfa at the time of seeding, with no added fertilizer, was economically the best pasture improvement strategy in this study. Because of moisture limitations, adding commercial fertilizer to full soil test recommendations is probably not economically justifiable in most years, especially with the rising cost of fertilizer. Improving grass-only pastures by adding fertilizer and/or alfalfa required additional non-renewable energy inputs; however, the additional energy required for unfertilized alfalfa-grass pastures was minimal compared to the fertilized pastures. Of the four pasture management strategies, adding alfalfa to grass pastures without adding fertilizer had the highest efficiency of energy use. Based on energy use and economic performance, the unfertilized alfalfa-grass pasture was the most efficient and sustainable pasture system.

Keywords: Alfalfa, grass, fertilizer, pasture systems, economics, energy.

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