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Drought Could Make Corn Dangerous, Even Deadly, For Livestock

Brett Blume
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Severe Drought Threatens Midwest Corn Crops

CBS St. Louis (con't)

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMOX) –  Well, the news gets even worse for farmers who’ve had to endure the worst drought in decades.

Many producers who’ve had to plow under their sun-withered corn crops were counting on at least getting to feed that to their livestock.

But it turns out that could be a very bad idea.

“Drought-damaged corn can accumulate a chemical called nitrate,” explains Dr. Tim Evans, associate professor of veterinary pathobiology and toxicology at the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

“If you give too much of it to ruminant livestock, especially cattle, you can end up potentially with death or abortions in pregnant cattle.”

Evans is quick to point out that this issue poses absolutely no danger to humans.

“It’s not a human health risk at all,” he stresses.

So what’s happening to turn drought-damaged corn crops into a potentially lethal meal for farm animals?

Evans says that in normal conditions corn crops typically absorb nitrate into only the lower foot to foot-and-a-half 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.

And it’s not just corn — many naturally-growing plants and weeds in grazing pastures can also store up too much nitrate.

Evans is encouraging farmers to test the nitrate levels of their crops and pastures before allowing their animals to eat any of the plants.

“Missouri farmers should definitely contact their local MU Extension offices for help in the preliminary stages of testing the nitrate concentrations in their crops,” says Evans. “Extension workers have their boots on the ground all across the state and are truly a valuable resource for farmers who are worried about their crops and livestock.”

For more information visit the extension website: http://extension.missouri.edu/directory/Places.aspx.

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