Drought Creates Potential Forage Danger for Cattle

by Curt Burnett on July 13, 2012

We’re all aware of the current drought in the Midwest and its potential effects on crop yields, particularly corn. I wouldn’t have known about this hazard though if I hadn’t been reading the farm press:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri agriculture officials are warning that cattle grazing on some drought-stressed plants are at risk of falling ill or even dying.

One issue is nitrate poisoning. The University of Missouri Extension says nitrate poisoning poses the biggest risk in pastures that contain sorghum sudan, millet and Johnsongrass.

Animals that eat nitrate-laden plants appear to be suffocating because nitrate poisoning inhibits the ability of blood to transport oxygen.

Nitrate is a naturally occurring form of nitrogen found in the soil. Normally, little nitrate accumulates in plants because they rapidly convert nitrate to amino acids and proteins. But when conditions are dry, the roots will take up nitrate faster than the plant can convert it.

Dry conditions also can lead to potentially toxic accumulations of prussic acid in plants such as sorghum.

Drought in Tuvalu

by Curt Burnett on January 10, 2012

The 2011 Tuvalu drought is a severe period of drought afflicting Tuvalu, a South Pacific island country of approximately 10,500 people, throughout the latter half of 2011. A state of emergency was declared on September 28, 2011, with rationing of available fresh-water. Parts of the country were reportedly in danger running out of natural drinking water by Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I’m a little late to this story since the drought has actually ended with the coming of the rainy season in November. Before that happened, both New Zealand and the US launched ship-based rescue missions in October, with our Coast Guard sending a buoy tender from American Samoa to deliver contianers of water. As of now, there are plans for assistance from Australia and Japan to provide more desalination capacity.

Stepping back a little, the likely immediate cause of the drought was said to be a La Nina condition, the “other half “of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) weather seesaw.

Much closer to home, this same La Nina pattern is leading to predictions of likely continuing drought in Texas and Florida this coming year. When it comes to climate, we live in a very connected world.