COLLEGE STATION - The drought has made hay scarce in some areas. But before producers buy, they should remember drought can also make any warm-season sorghum forages toxic, said an Texas AgriLife Extension Service forage expert.
"With the hot, dry conditions we are currently experiencing in most of Texas, producers should be aware that their warm-season annual grass hays could have nitrates accumulated in them to a toxic level," said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station.
The warning applies to forages such as haygrazer, forage sorghums and sorghum-sudan hybrids. Though not of the genus Sorghum, warm-season annuals such as pearl millet, foxtail millet and German millet can also become toxic under drought conditions.
"People like them because they are pretty tolerant of hot, dry conditions," Redmon said. "But the forages also have the unique capability of accumulating nitrates in their tissues to toxic levels."
The nitrate levels do not diminish over time, he said.
"If the nitrate levels are high when the hay is baled up, they will be high enough when the hay is fed in the winter," Redmond said.
Redmon recommend that anyone producing or selling warm-season grass hay get a forage-nitrate analysis performed.
The forage-nitrate analysis is not included in a standard nutritive-value forage analysis. The cost is an extra $5 for the test, but well-worth the money, Redmon said.
Redmond said producers wishing more information on sampling, testing and management for nitrates in forages should either contact the AgriLife Extension office in their county or go to the Texas A&M University forage Web site at http://forages.tamu.edu/PDF/Nitrate.pdf .
More information on drought in Texas can be found at the Web site of the Drought Joint Information Center at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:
CENTRAL: Conditions remained hot and dry, and soil moisture was very short. All forages and grain crops were stressed by the drought and heat. Stock tanks were low. Cattle producers were concerned about prussic acid developing in sorghum and Johnson grass fields. Corn growers who were baling stalks for hay were encouraged to test for nitrate levels.
COASTAL BEND: Triple-digit temperatures, high winds and no rain worsened the drought conditions. The sorghum harvest began on some fields not zeroed-out by insurance adjusters. Some producers were baling sorghum for livestock rather than incur harvest costs on very limited production fields. Cotton bolls were beginning to open. The condition of cattle worsened with little forage available.
EAST: A few areas received as much as 1.3 inches of rain, but most were left dry. What moisture was received was quickly lost to evapotranspiration due to 100-degree temperatures. Many counties were under a burn ban. Livestock were in fair to good condition but have begun to struggle with the excessive heat. Lack of rain dramatically slowed hay production and reduced yields. Many producers started buying/feeding hay and supplementing livestock. Others have begun culling herds. Feral hog activity increased throughout the area, according to reports by AgriLife Extension personnel.
FAR WEST: Scattered rainfall was reported with accumulations of 0.5 to 4 inches. Some areas didn't receive any rainfall. Pecans were in the nut-growth stage, with monitoring for second-generation case bearers ongoing. Cotton began squaring. Some cotton looked good, while other fields were plowed under because of poor stands or other problems. Alfalfa fields were readied for a fourth cutting. Chiles were in full bloom.
NORTH: From 0.5 to 2.5 inches of rain in part of the region gave temporary relief to pastures and crops. Soil moisture remained short in other areas, and pastures deteriorated under 100-plus degree heat. Stock tank levels appeared to be holding though the past two weeks were dry and hot. Those producers who are properly stocked will be able to stand dry weather fairly easy, but lack of rain lowered prospects for hay for many producers. Despite the deluge of rain received in May, quantity and quality of cut hay was down. Some cornfields were changing colors, and grain sorghum began to head. Most well-drained corn fields looked very good while those fields that did not drain well appear to have been damaged by the heavy rains in May. The same held true for grain sorghum and soybeans. Rice and cotton were in fair condition. The winter wheat and oat harvests were completed. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to poor condition.
PANHANDLE: All summer crops looked good, especially corn and cotton. The wheat harvest wound down with average to below-average yields. Soil moisture was low across the region, except in the south central counties. Range and pastures were in fair condition. Cattle were in good shape, though plagued with horn flies across the entire region.
ROLLING PLAINS: Crops and pasture land were beginning to dry out as daily temperatures reached 100. Late in the reporting period, 1 to 3 inches of rain fell on most of the district bringing cooler temperatures and helping drought-stressed dryland crops. Hay remained in high demand. Rangeland was beginning to look a little poor due to the lack of moisture, but improved with rain. Cotton progressed well with the warm days and nights, while milo and haygrazer were starting to stress from lack of moisture. AgriLife Extension personnel reported that nitrates were up in several samples of haygrazer last week.
SOUTH: Green grass on rangeland and pastures was non-existent in many parts of the region. Livestock producers were heavily providing supplemental feed to livestock. Some producers had to liquidate their cattle herds. In the northern parts of the region, watermelon harvesting was nearly complete. Peanut plants emerged and were in fair condition. Corn began to mature, and cotton was setting bolls. What little sorghum that was carried to harvest in the eastern parts of the region was rapidly maturing. In the western parts of the region, producers were heavily irrigating corn and sorghum. Also in the west, growers were expected to finish the watermelon harvest soon.
SOUTH PLAINS: From 0.5 to 3 inches of rain cooled things off and raised humidity. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Corn was in good condition and started to tassel. Sorghum was in fair to good condition. The wheat harvest was ongoing. Sunflowers and soybeans were in various stages of development, depending upon when they were planted, but most fields looked fair to good. Cotton was in fair to good condition and neared the bloom stage. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Cattle were in good condition with continued supplemental feeding.
SOUTHEAST: Extremely dry, hot conditions stressed crops, animals and people. Total rain for the first six months of 2009 was only 7 inches, 20 inches below average. Cattle producers were aggressively culling cow herds and marketing calves early. Burn bans were in effect in most counties. The condition of corn and grain sorghum continued to deteriorate with no moisture available for grain development. No hay was being baled, and ponds continued to shrink.
SOUTHWEST: Dry weather continued with record highs. The soil profile was very dry. High, dry winds increased the risk of wildfires along roadsides and in fields. Except for deferred pastures, forages were nearly nonexistent. The cantaloupe and watermelon harvests were ongoing. Corn and sorghum were drying down. Below-average yields were expected due to the dry, hot weather. Cotton and peanuts were making excellent progress under heavy irrigation.
WEST CENTRAL: Some scattered showers were reported, but extremely hot, dry conditions were the rule. Hay harvesting continued. Irrigated cotton crops were doing well. Producers were planting dryland cotton, hoping the showers brought enough moisture to get the cotton up and going. Rangeland and pastures were showing signs of heat stress. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Flies were becoming a major problem with livestock, as were other internal and external parasites.