Potassium for high rainfall pastures

Page last updated: Thursday, 1 November 2018 - 3:48pm

Potassium deficiency can lead to loss of clover content and severely limit production of high rainfall. Large amounts of potassium can be lost each year through leaching and removal of potassium in hay or silage. This page is specific to high rainfall pastures (more than 600mm average annual rainfall) in the south-west of Western Australia.

Soil tests provide a guide to potassium requirements, and follow-up tissue testing can confirm plant potassium levels. We recommend using nutrient testing to support fertiliser management decisions.

Monitoring potassium in high rainfall pastures is important

Large amounts of potassium can move out of the root zone through leaching or plant uptake, especially in high rainfall (more than 600mm average annual rainfall) sandy areas. Potassium is removed in hay and silage and is redistributed around the farm by livestock, mosly in urine patches.

Pasture legumes – clovers in most Western Australian pastures – are very susceptible to potassium deficiency. Potassium deficiency greatly reduces seed production of legumes, and legumes will gradually disappear from potassium-deficient pasture. Re-seeding legumes after adding potassium fertiliser may be required.

In beef-grazed sandy areas where potassium deficiency is common, potash is applied annually, often in addition to phosphorus fertiliser.

Potassium deficiency is rare in ryegrass, even in intensively grazed dairy pasture. Ryegrass has deeper roots and can explore more soil and access potassium at greater depths, especially if there is clay in the subsoil.

Soil test and tissue test

If the tissue test shows less than 2% potassium (K), it is likely the pasture will respond to potassium application.

Soil test Colwell K values and clover growth

Potassium soil analysis can be very strongly influenced by potassium in urine patches. We recommend you follow our soil sampling guidelines and check the soil test with a tissue test. Maintaining records of annual soil tests and comparing them to tissue tests will improve the ability to accurately assess potassium requirements. See Table 1 for a guide on using Colwell K values to estimate the need for potassium fertiliser.

Table 1 Clover pasture requirements for potassium fertiliser and response at different Colwell K values
Colwell K value (mg/kg) High rainfall clover pasture requirements for potassium fertiliser and response
<50 Requires potassium fertiliser and responds with additional growth
50–100 Requires maintenance level of potassium fertiliser, and shows no additional growth
>100 Does not require potassium fertiliser, and would show no additional growth

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When to apply potassium fertiliser

Split applications of muriate of potash (potassium chloride) in autumn and spring provide a more even supply of potassium to leaching soils. This fertiliser is in addition to phosphorus and sulfur fertilisers or other fertiliser that is required.

Potassium deficiency on fertile clay or loam soils is less likely than on sands, and we recommend a single application of muriate of potash 4–8 weeks after the break of season, applied to emerging pasture. Potassium applied at this time is more likely to be absorbed by developed roots and less likely to be leached.

Use tissue testing to monitor the effectiveness of applied potassium.

Application rates of potassium

These rates are guidelines only and will vary depending on pasture production targets and economics:

  • For a PBI* <300, 1kg of potassium is required for each unit increase in Colwell K required.
  • For a PBI* >300, 2kg of potassium is required for each unit increase in Colwell K required.
  • Deficient pastures with a PBI* <300 and a Colwell K of 40 would require 60kgK/ha.

* PBI is the phosphorus buffering index; see phosphorus for high rainfall clover pastures for more information.

A maintenance application of 30–50kgK/ha annually is likely to be required for high rainfall grazed pastures and 50–100kgK/ha for hay paddocks. We recommended that you soil test for an accurate assessment. The effectiveness of applications can be checked by tissue testing.

Dairy pastures and potassium

Potassium conentration in some pastures can be high enough to induce magnesium deficiency in lactating dairy cows and this reduces productivity and health. Refer to Bulletin 4812 'Managing potassium in dairy pastures'.

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Making better nutrient management decisions

We encourage dairy, beef, sheep managers in the lower south-west of Western Australia to base nutrient management decisions on good evidence, and recommends regular soil testing and consultation with FertCare-accredited advisers to plan profitable and responsible fertiliser use.

Contact information

Robert Summers
+61 (0)8 9535 4140
David Weaver