The study of forages is complicated because forages are used within the plant-soil-animal continuum and the interactions between all three must be studied. The various components and their interactions also complicate the economic picture of forage production.

The first approach that will add clarity to the economic picture is to consider the balance that must exist between inputs and outputs. Many things (inputs) can be added to a forage production that will increase yield and other outputs. A manager is tempted to add more fertilizer, new equipment and varieties. But any added element should be viewed as a part of a big picture and the overall impact may not improve output in an economically sound way.

For example: When adding phosphate to an alfalfa stand, the first $5 spent may yield $200. A second $5 will yield about $120, but the third $5 spent on phosphate may result in an improve yield of about $6.

In certain countries having large flocks is prestigious but those animals are sometimes weak and unproductive as the land becomes overgrazed. Fewer animals on the allotted land would be wiser economically and more environmentally sound.

The goal should be to balance the things brought into a forage-livestock operation (inputs) with the results (outputs) within the perspective of sustaining the resources. Decide carefully where to put each dollar by looking at the larger picture over the long term.