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Aug 15 2012

MU Expert: Drought Can Make Corn Dangerous Feed

Many drought-stricken farmers are trying to salvage what usable corn they have left for cattle feed.

University of Missouri researchers say that may not be a good idea. Associate Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology and Toxicology Tim Evans says that severe drought can make corn plants, especially those fertilized with nitrogen, accumulate nitrate. Nitrate can cause lethargy, miscarriage, even sudden death in cattle.

Evans says that in normal conditions, corn crops typically absorb nitrate into only the lower 12-18 inches of the stalk, which does not have to be fed to animals. However, during severe drought conditions, high concentrations of nitrate can accumulate in the upper portions of the stalk, which cattle and other livestock often eat. 

It’s not just limited to corn; certain grasses can also accumulate nitrte.

Evans encourages farmers to test the nitrate levels of their crops and pastures before allowing their animals to eat any of the plants. In addition, Evans suggests that corn plants being harvested early for making silage, which generally contain lower concentrations of nitrate, should be tested for nitrate prior to and after fermentation to determine the concentrations of nitrate being fed to cattle.

Farmers should contact their local MU Extension office for help in testing nitrate concentrations.  

To find the office nearest to you, click here.