Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Midsummer Catchup

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Great Bend Tribune
Published July 14, 2019

Wheat harvest made good progress the last ten days, especially south of the river, and was much better than most thought.  Various reports for the state are pegging the average yield of harvested acres at approximately fifty-five bushels per acre with good test weights (pounds per bushel) but a lot of lower than desired protein.  Corn and soybeans are finally growing and corn, especially south of the river on sandier soils, is silking and tasseling.  Grain sorghum, milo, is also moving along but most is far behind where we want it to be.  Corn and milo need heat and sunshine to go along with the soil moisture and these days around ninety degrees with lows around seventy are ideal.  Hay producers are still facing challenges swathing and baling good quality hay and many are behind schedule with prairie hay and alfalfa.  The feed crop is growing and while late is looking good.  Today let’s discuss livestock water.

Let’s take a moment to look at our waterways and ponds, many of which are used to water livestock.  If you live near Great Bend, you likely remember the problems at Veterans’ Lake with blue-green algae and the toxins produced.  With all the precipitation this spring and early summer, many waterbodies received significant runoff.  This runoff likely contained fertilizer nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.  Combine this with seasonal temperatures (i.e. hot) and you may have a situation where toxins detrimental, even lethal, to livestock may be produced.  Some toxins target the liver and some the nervous system.  Livestock can often recover from the liver toxin, however, the nervous system toxin is more dramatic and livestock can die within hours.  Unfortunately, as of now there are no antidotes for this poisoning.  So what can be done?

  • Be on the lookout in water for a blue, green, or an orange color.  This could also apply to stock tanks.  These algae flourish when the water is seventy-five degrees or higher.  Often the growth appears as a mat or as if someone dumped paint in the water. 
  • If the waters seem different, it would be wise to take a water sample and have it tested.  That and keep livestock away until you know.  It can take several weeks after the bloom is evident for the toxin to dissipate. 
  • A way to minimize the potential for a bloom is to establish good buffer strips around any riparian area where crop fields are nearby.  This will help keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of surface waters.  Remember as little as a one percent slope facilitates runoff.
  • Aerators can be used to keep water in motion or even water-soluble dyes to decrease sunlight.  Both help decrease the risk of a bloom.
  • It is also wise to keep watch on stock water tanks.  In addition to algal blooms in these, they can become contaminated and dirty.  Where practical, it is a good idea to drain these and clean them as well as you can.  It not only keeps water free from contamination but will increase water uptake.
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