Taking on a new role

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Farm Forum

Sometimes it is hard to comprehend how quickly years fly by. I’ve been privileged to serve as the SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist for almost five years, but it really doesn’t seem like that long. When I started I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I quickly realized that this position has been one of the most satisfying things that I’ve ever done, at least professionally. I’m very proud to have played a role in transforming the way that SDSU Extension delivers information to ag producers and for the chance to get to work with some truly great people.

It has been said that there is a time for everything, and for me the time has come to take on a different role. Starting August 10, I will be taking on a different role within SDSU Extension. I’ve accepted a position as Beef Feedlot Management Extension Associate based in the Animal Science Department on the SDSU Campus.

While I’m going to miss my co-workers in Watertown a great deal, I’m excited about the possibilities of this new position. I convinced that South Dakota has an opportunity to improve our state’s economy by feeding more livestock within our borders rather than exporting feed out of state. I hope that I can contribute in some small way to the success of the cattle feeders and beef industry in South Dakota.

My email address will stay the same (warren.rusche@sdstate.edu). My new phone number will be 605-688-5452. I plan to get out in the state as much as I can to visit with producers, including attending Dakotafest all three days. Please stop by if you have a chance.

Drought stressed corn, silage, and nitrates

Unfortunately, lack of rainfall plagues much of the state this year. There are scattered pockets that will have disappointing corn crops, even complete failures in some cases. Harvesting the crop has silage is a good way to utilize the crop. Drought-stressed corn won’t have the same feed value as a normal crop, but it is certainly useful in rations, especially feedlot diets and for wintering cows.

The biggest concern with drought-stressed crops is nitrate poisoning. When stress conditions occur, some of the nitrogen taken up by the plant is “stuck” as nitrates instead of being incorporated into plant protein. If nitrates are consumed more rapidly than can be metabolized, the hemoglobin in the red blood cells changes, resulting in insufficient oxygen transport and ultimately death.

Feeds containing nitrates can still be used. Low levels pose no real problems; feeds with higher levels need to be diluted in the ration. In order to do that and reduce risks, the level of nitrate concentration needs to be known.

Quick screening tests (available at Regional Extension Centers and many county offices) tell whether nitrates are present. Determining exact levels requires submitting samples to a laboratory. Making drought-stressed corn into silage complicates the picture a bit further. We generally assume that the fermentation process reduces nitrate concentrations by 20 to 50%. That reduces, but doesn’t eliminate the risk.

Here are some tips to deal with drought-stressed corn for silage:

• Test the feed. The Nitrate Quick Test will tell you if nitrates are present. It may still be valuable to get the lab test prior to chopping to get the exact level, especially if someone was buying a field or spending a large amount of money on custom choppers. At a minimum, test the feed after fermentation (at least 3-4 weeks post-harvest).

• Cut the crop high. Nitrate levels are highest in the lower stem. Leaving 12 or more inches of stalks means leaving more nitrates in the field for future crops instead of in the bunker.

• Harvest the crop correctly. Drought stressed corn sometimes looks drier than it is, double check to make sure the moisture is in the 60 to 70% range. Using proven inoculants may also help improve the fermentation process.

• Delay harvest if soaking rain occurs. A late flush of precipitation can trigger increased nutrient uptake resulting in higher nitrate levels. Waiting 3 to 4 days allows for uptake of the nitrates into plant protein.