June 9, 2004 | By: Brightwell
Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky farmers face a Herculean task to remedy flood-related damage and problems with livestock and feed, crops, and stored chemicals.

The medium-range outlook is for near-normal rainfall. However, soils remain saturated making some areas more prone to possible flooding even from normal rainfall.

“Kentucky has had more than 10 inches of rainfall in just over five weeks. Last month precipitation exceeded nine inches, making it the third wettest May in 110 years,” said Tom Priddy, meteorologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

”The medium-range outlook also is for above-normal temperatures,” he added.

The potential long-term effects of recent and future flooding may include reduced livestock and poultry productivity, decreased crop yields, lower livestock feed supplies and quality, and pesticide or chemical contamination or replacement. 

“Providing extra care reduces the detrimental effects of flooding on livestock and poultry,” said Patty Scharko, Extension ruminant veterinarian. “Have a veterinarian vaccinate them for such flood-related disease as anthrax, blackleg and swine erysipelas. Monitor animals for flood-related disease symptoms such as fever, breathing difficulty, lameness and muscle contractions. Spray livestock with properly labeled insecticides to prevent mosquito and other pest annoyances and potential disease spread.”

Try to milk at regular times to keep from stressing high-producing cows. If you use another person’s milking parlor, try to keep your herd separate from the other one.

When flooding is imminent, open gates so livestock can escape high water.

Clean barns, chicken houses and hog houses and spray with a disinfectant before bringing animals back inside. Thoroughly air-out buildings to dry them.

Inspect feeds and hay. Do not feed moldy legume hay or heated, sour or molded feed to livestock because it may lead to reduced performance, illness, abortion or death. Also, do not use feed or forage that may be contaminated by pesticides or chemicals.

“Pay special attention to wet hay because it quickly molds and heats, resulting in spontaneous combustion in just a few days,” said Garry Lacefield, Extension forage specialist.

“Check hay temperature to determine fire danger,” he said. “If hay has reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit, observe it every day; 160 degrees, every four hours. Hot spots or fire pockets are possible at 175 degrees so have adequate water handy. If hay reaches 185 degrees, move it out a safe distance from the barn because flames may occur when it comes in contact with air. At 210 degrees, hay likely will ignite.”

To keep workers from possibly falling into fire pockets, secure ropes around their waists and do not allow them to enter the hay storage area alone. For additional safety, let workers stand on long planks placed across the top of hay.

“Wet grain also can build up to spontaneous combustion,” Lacefield said. “To salvage grain, quickly take it to a dryer. If one is not available, spread grain out no higher than six inches in a dry location and stir it daily. Remove molded grains.”

Remember to check hay and grain storage areas often for signs of heating such as pungent odors, hot, damp areas on the stack and water vapor emission.

Seasonal temperatures and time spent under water are significant factors in crop recovery. Warm, summer weather intensifies damage and likely death to submerged plants. When water quickly rises and recedes, crops have less oxygen depletion and are more likely to survive than those submerged in standing water. Plants with some leaves above the water and those in moving water have a better likelihood of survival.

Lacefield said alfalfa, ryegrass, orchardgrass and tall fescue usually will recover from moderate silting. To reduce damage, remove old growth from un-harvested hay crop fields. Make crops harvested just before flooding into silage or hay, then topdress fields with fertilizer.

“Submerged corn may show yellowing and/or stunting because plants cannot take up nitrogen in saturated conditions,” said Chad Lee, Extension grain crops specialist. “These symptoms will continue after flood waters recede because soils remain saturated. To eliminate surplus soil moisture, open drainage ditches as soon as possible. The rate of recovery is affected by the time it takes soil to dry out and allow oxygen back into the root zone.

“To determine if corn is surviving cut down the length of several corn stalks to the growing point at or below soil surface on V6 and younger corn. Healthy growing points will be white or cream-colored. Darkening and/or limp growing points indicate plant death. These symptoms occur several days after flooding.”

Surviving corn may suffer yield losses resulting from the flooding conditions.

Corn fields fertilized before the heavy rains may suffer nitrogen loss from denitrification. When soils are saturated for two to three days, bacteria build up and convert soil nitrate into nitrogen gas, resulting in nitrogen losses.

To calculate the amount of nitrogen lost, estimate the level of soil nitrate before flooding occurred, then assume a three-to four-percent loss for each day of saturation beyond two days of flooded fields.

Typically, farmers would have little loss from nitrogen fertilizer broadcast on fields within 24 hours of heavy rain because the nitrogen would quickly dissolve and the first part of the rain would move fertilizer into the ground where it is protected from runoff. An exception would be intense rain that erodes topsoil from the slopes.

Corn seeded in early to mid-June can have 20- to 40-percent losses caused by fall freeze injury to immature plants. Growers should switch to earlier-maturing hybrids. Maturities of 113 to 116 days probably are still safe for early to mid-June plantings. Corn hybrids planted after mid-June need maturities of 110 to 113 or less to be safe for most of Kentucky.

Improperly stored pesticides and other chemicals can contaminate water supplies. It is critical to safely store them in both daily and disaster situations.

“If flood waters entered your pesticide storage area, carefully check all containers for damage or leaks, said Lee Townsend, Extension specialist and pesticide application trainer. “Open windows and doors for good ventilation. Wear the same personal protective equipment you would use when mixing or loading the most hazardous pesticide in the storage area. Provide training and protective equipment for everyone assisting with the cleanup.”

Although metal and plastic containers may be unharmed, their labels may be damaged. Dry off and move undamaged containers to a dried out, secure storage area. Repair or reattach damaged labels. If this is not possible, put new labels on containers. The pesticide dealer can help you with this label problem. 

“Paper or cardboard containers typically receive the most damage and may be leaking,” Townsend said. “Transfer the contents of leaking containers into sealable metal or plastic drums, and follow pesticide spill cleanup procedures prescribed on the appropriate material safety data sheets available from your chemical supply dealer.”

Remove contaminated wood, dirt and other porous materials to sealable containers and dispose of them according to pesticide label directions. Decontaminate non-porous surfaces such as concrete floors and metal shelving.

Sources: Tom Priddy 859-257-3000, ext. 245

Patty Scharko 859-253-0571

Garry Lacefield 270-365-7541 Ext. 202

Chad Lee 859-257-3203

Lee Townsend 859-257-7455


Writer: Ellen Brightwell  859-257-4736 ext. 257