Minimize drought’s effects

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I would like to start my first column for the Enterprise by thanking the people of Marion County for the privilege to serve as your extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Everyone I have met so far has been wonderful to work with and so hospitable. I am looking forward to meeting the needs of the people of Marion County.
We finally got a little rain this past Friday. The drought is not over, however, and we need to work to minimize its effects. One of the major problems we face is our grain farmers have substantial quantities of corn that will not produce a grain crop this year. Our hay crops have also suffered. While we did get some good hay in late spring we have not had the growth to get additional cuttings of hay.
We do have an opportunity to use the corn crop that is not harvested for grain as forage for livestock. Be aware however that the stalk and leaves are likely to be high in nitrates, which is potentially toxic to livestock. Have the corn forage tested for nitrates before you feed it to your animals! I can come to your farm to do a preliminary test to see if nitrates are present and if so, send samples to the lab at UK to find the exact level. A small amount can be tolerated by cattle, but larger amounts can be fatal. Making silage out of the crop will reduce nitrates by 20 to 60 percent, but the silage should still be tested prior to feeding to assure it is safe as well as to determine the amount to feed. Do not under any circumstances feed as green chop or turn livestock out into standing corn to graze until you have had the corn tested for the nitrates.
With large amounts of nitrogen put down to maximize the grain yield, there is risk for extremely high nitrates. Crops that were not fertilized as heavy may not have as much nitrate but should still be tested. Another caution to consider is that the rain we are getting may make it easier for the plant to take up larger quantities of nitrogen and the plant potentially becomes more toxic. If you had the corn tested before the rain and did not harvest it you should have it tested again prior to harvest.
For the farmers raising the corn, if you have insurance, make sure you get approval from your insurance carrier before harvesting any of the crops. I am certain all of you have called your carrier by now.
If you are wondering if it is better to harvest what is left as grain or forage, Jeff Lehmkuhler, Kenny Burdine and Greg Halich from UK have put out a publication on how to estimate the amount of grain in the field and what it may be worth as silage. Please contact me at the Extension Office and I can get the information for you
The silage analysis by UK takes into account the value of the fertilizer that would be saved for next year. The phosphorous and potassium will be available, but the nitrogen which is a large part of the total cost will likely be gone. It may be a good idea to plant a fall forage crop to take advantage of the nitrogen that will otherwise be lost. Success of this depends of course on how much rain we get.
Farmers should also consider fertilizing pastures to get as much forage growth as possible this fall. Again, this involves risk as the nitrogen would be lost if it doesn’t rain. I recommend bringing a soil sample to the office and we can have it tested and make a recommendation for a complete fertilization program.
Commercial and home garden tomato growers have also been hit hard by the drought. There has been a significant amount of Blossom End Rot. This can be due to low calcium in the soil or uneven watering. Our soils are usually high in calcium but moisture is needed to pull it into the plant. During the dry weather it has been hard to keep the soil moist consistently, and that is probably a cause of a lot of the problems. Mulching around the plants will help keep the soil consistently moist and may help the problem. If not bring a soil sample to the office and we can test for calcium deficiency.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to work with you. I look forward to meeting all of you in the near future.
Editor’s note: Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.