Nitrate Testing

Byron Leu, Livestock Field Specialist, Southeast

Problem Statement:  
During stress conditions such as drought, the corn plant can develop potentially high nitrate levels that can negatively affect animals consuming the stalks.  Corn silage or green chop containing elevated nitrate levels could cause reduced productivity, secondary health problems, and in some cases, animal death in dairy and beef cow herds as well as beef feedlot animals.
Programmatic Response:
In August 2005, 40 producers submitted over 220 corn stalk samples from 12 Southeast Iowa counties to be tested by a nitrate quick test.  The testing process involved evaluating the stalk at different points to determine the nitrate level in the stalks.  The results indicated that approximately 66% of the samples had elevated nitrate levels.  Based on the individual results, ISUE Livestock Field Specialists Byron Leu and Denise Schwab gave specific recommendations to the project participants to ensure a safe and cost efficient use of the available feeds.  Recommendations varied according to the nitrate levels, giving producers options to incorporate in their management program.  For long-term safety, over 60% of the producers were encouraged to have their silage tested for actual nitrate levels after the ensiling process was completed. 
As a result of this effort, beef producers were alerted to the potential problems caused by elevated nitrate levels in drought-injured corn.  Animal death due to green chopped high nitrate corn was averted, and the interaction between crop growth and animal feeding needs was increased.  No reduction in animal performance was reported. 

March 7, 2006
107 - Iowa Beef Center

Page last updated: July 8, 2006
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