The forage supply in Georgia is extremely tight, reports Dennis Hancock, extension forage specialist at the University of Georgia. "The Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service reports that over 70% of Georgia's pastures are rated either poor or very poor," he says. "In northwestern and southern Georgia, precipitation is already 14-16" below normal for this time of year and nearly 90% of pastures in these areas are rated poor or very poor."

Although producers growing bermudagrass or alfalfa under irrigation are finding a very favorable market, most of Georgia's hayfields are dryland and currently lie dormant, Hancock says. Beef producers have started to wean calves early to lower the forage demands of the brood cows. Dairy producers and horse owners are having great difficulty arranging for hay supplies from local sources.

"Although much of the small grain crop that was damaged by a late-spring freeze has been baled and will help carry some animals for a while, approximately 25% of the forage samples coming through the University of Georgia's Agricultural & Environmental Services Laboratories have nitrate levels that exceed 5,000 ppm," Hancock says. "Forage containing more than 5,000 ppm can lead to nitrate toxicity. Producers who fail to test their forage and ensure that nitrate levels are diluted to safe levels may be setting themselves up for disaster this summer. Cattle may suffer reduced milk production, reproduction problems or even die when they are fed such high levels of nitrates."

Contact Hancock at 706-542-1529.