A lack of moisture during this winter season has certainly hurt the wheat crop here in the Coastal Bend as well as most of Texas. However, some value could still be there as the wheat could be harvested as a hay crop. However, plant stresses, such as drought, are associated with increased levels of nitrate, and this would be one area of concern that should be checked out before cutting for hay.

Plant parts closest to the ground contain the highest concentrations of nitrates. Leaves contain less than stalks or stems, while the seed and flower usually contain little or no nitrate.

While difficult to do with drought-stressed forages, raising the cutter bar above 6 inches can reduce nitrate content of forages.

Not all drought conditions cause high nitrate levels in plants. Some moisture must be present in the soil for the plant to absorb and accumulate nitrate. If the major supply of nitrates for the plant is in dry surface soil, the roots will absorb very little nitrate. In plants that survive drought conditions, nitrates are often high for several days following the first rain. Since we have had no significant rain since most of our wheat emerged, chances are that nitrate levels will be low, but to be on the safe side it should be checked.

Nitrate is present to some degree in all forages, however when plants are stressed, normal plant growth does not occur which may result in plants accumulating too much nitrate, or toxic levels. Nitrate poisoning can occur when the forage consumed contains high levels of nitrate, a sudden diet change, conditions causing anemia, or livestock consume supplements of urea or high-protein feeds along with forage containing moderate levels of nitrate.

Many kinds of plants can accumulate nitrate including plants in the sorghum family, like johnsongrass, sudangrasses, sorghum hybrids, corn, small grains, carelessweed or pigweed. Under dry conditions, plant roots continue to absorb small amounts of nitrogen, but the plant has too little water to keep growing, thus nitrate accumulates and is stored in the lower leaves and stems.

Excessive nitrate consumption can be fatal to cattle. Nitrate concentrations in excess of 1 percent in the dry matter are considered toxic. However, lower concentrations also can cause health and reproductive problems and impede growth. Nitrate concentrations less than 0.3 percent are regarded as safe for pregnant cattle and 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent are safe for other cattle. As levels surpass 0.5 percent, the risk of reproductive failure, health problems and reduced performance increases.

Laboratory analysis can be performed on suspected plants, but samples need to be representative of the field or bales in question. Producers can send samples to the TVMDL Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, at No. 1 Sippel Rd, College Station, Texas, 77843. For more information, contact the lab at (888) 646-5623. There is a lab fee of $6 per sample and for $1 extra you can have results faxed or phoned to you. Samples should be packaged in a clean paper bag and box and shipped to a laboratory for analysis.

Agricultural Safety Awareness Week, March 1-7

The Farm Bureau is promoting Agricultural Safety Awareness this week. In a region where tractors are as common as automobiles, it is important to note that tractors are designed for just one person. Adding another, especially a child, greatly increases the risk of injury or even death.

More than 100 children die in farm accidents in the U.S. every year. A tractor is

involved nearly half the time when children under the age of 15 die in accidents

on the farm. It takes just a few seconds for a child to fall off of or under a tractor.

Make sure the children you care about are not allowed as extra riders on these vehicles, so you can continue growing our most important crop.