Timely rains have benefited most of the Corn Belt, but some key production areas remain dangerously dry. Producers facing the prospect of low grain yields due to drought might gain the most value from their crops by harvesting silage, according to Bill Mahanna, general manager, forage and nutritional sciences at Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Drought-stressed silage has 75 percent to 90 percent the nutritional value of silage grown under ideal conditions. And harvesting corn for silage typically produces 1.5 times the total digestible nutrients and twice the protein per acre as harvesting for grain.

One potential problem is that drought-stressed corn plants can contain high levels of nitrates. The fermentation process reduces nitrate levels in silage by 40 percent to 60 percent. Dr. Mahanna recommends waiting at least 21 days before feeding drought-stressed silage. Use of silage inoculants can reduce that time to 7 days. To avoid any remaining chance of nitrate toxicity, producers should have their silage tested for nitrates prior to feeding.

Pioneer Hi-Bred offers these additional tips for feeding drought-stressed silage: * Adapt animals to feed for 10 days or longer. Feed small quantities of high-nitrate silage several times a day vs. once-a-day feeding.

* Avoid supplementing non-protein nitrogen sources, such as urea or ammonia, when using high-nitrate silage.

* Dilute high-nitrate silage by feeding it as part of a high-energy, grain-based ration.

* Feed iodized salt to avoid thyroid conditions and supplemental vitamin A to compensate for reduced carotene conversion.