Important To Test For Nitrates In Forages

As the time to harvest your cereal grain crops for forage approaches, it’s time to consider testing them for nitrates prior to cutting. Nitrates can accumulate not only in cereal grains, but also in sorghum, sudangrass, millet, corn, and many weed species. Any forages containing these species should be tested for nitrates.

Nitrate is a form of nitrogen which is essential for the growth and development of plants, and it is the form that is taken up by the roots of the plant. When growing conditions are normal, plants convert this nitrate into amino acids to build proteins. However, under some conditions, nitrates are taken up faster than the plant can convert to proteins. Factors that impact nitrate accumulation in the plant include soil fertility, part of the plant, maturity, and growing conditions. Any condition that stresses the plant can cause the plant to increase nitrate accumulation. Even under ideal conditions, the level of nitrates in the plant is unpredictable. Testing prior to cutting is important, as this gives you a chance to delay harvest and wait for nitrate levels to decrease if they happen to be elevated.

When nitrates are ingested by ruminant livestock, they are converted to nitrite by the microbes in the rumen, then into ammonia, and that ammonia is used as protein for the microbes. When there is a large influx of nitrates into the rumen of the animal, they accumulate faster than they can be converted, and the nitrite is absorbed into the bloodstream and reduces the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity. This can lead to many complications, including death.

There are limited treatments for nitrate toxicity. Prevention is key, and it starts by testing your forages prior to cutting. The Richland County Extension Office offers a free in house semi-quantitative nitrate test that provides same day results. Remember to gather a representative sample for testing by collecting plants from around the field and cutting them at harvest height. If you have any questions or need to have a nitrate test done, stop by the office or call 406-433-1206.


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