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Recent Extreme Weather Events: Animal Deaths Linked to Toxic Plant and Pest Outbreaks

Bravo, M.A. 2021. Recent Extreme Weather Events: Animal Deaths Linked to Toxic Plant and Pest Outbreaks. NEPPC, January 5 (virtual)

Has recent extreme weather events impacted forage safety?

Northeastern Plant Pest Conference Abstract: “Centuries of research and post-mortem findings document poisonous plants, plant-pest, plant-bacterial, plant-pesticides and accumulating toxic levels of soil elements in forage and grain in all stages of harvest, either by grazing, or through consumption of processed feed, or act of accessing water, as the cause of sudden death or chronic sickness in livestock.

Domesticated bees (Apis melifera L.) are livestock, and like other domesticated herbivores, dependent on both cultivated and naturally occurring plants for food sources. In the last decade, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, floods and exceptionally long-lived derechos and tornadoes resulted in thousands of livestock and forage indemnifications due to poisonous plant toxins. The alarming number of losses in the nation’s bee colonies is an example of this trend.

This year marks the sixth that ten or more consecutive extreme weather events occurred in the United States. Duration and frequency of multiple consecutive billion dollar extreme weather events in the same and consecutive growing season raise the following questions: 1. Are we sufficiently prepared and trained to recognize impending plant toxicity scenarios? 2. Are we prepared to act quickly to mitigate forage and feed poisonings before losses occur? 3. Can we deploy rapidly to relocate affected herds to mitigate further harm? 4. Do we have a mechanism to nationally communicate frequency, severity, duration and overlap of multiple extreme weather related plant poisonings in grazed forges, harvested forages and processed feed? 5. Are we appropriately accessing the livestock groups at risk? 6. Are we documenting the changing levels of these toxins in forages and feed in real time?

Applied herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, and manure can raise, lower, accumulate, or not affect poisonous concentrations in plants. Naturally occurring soil elements are also culpable in extreme weather-related livestock mortalities. Outbreaks of mycotoxin, bacterial, viral and pest-contaminated forages and feed kill thousands of livestock worldwide. Toxic plants include non-vascular bio accumulating macrophytes ingested when consuming shrinking water supplies and four dozen other families with toxic members found in lower vascular, gymnosperm, flowering, and monocot divisions.

The 2018 Farm Bill language now includes vector and vector-transmitted losses as eligible livestock, forage, honeybee, fish and forestry losses due to extreme weather events. Key plants play a critical role in the life cycle of livestock-killing flies, mosquitos, ticks and other plant-dependent deleterious pests swarming during and after extreme weather events. Blister beetle (Epicauta L.) infested hay that killed horses in Wisconsin this year is one example. Historically, botanists, extension professionals, and plant, pest, and soil specialists assist with investigations into livestock deaths, but only veterinarians can certify cause of death during and after extreme weather events for federal loss programs. There is currently a shortage of livestock veterinarians and need for a nationally coordinated poisonous plant toxin and toxin in feed (PPTTF) alert to deploy PPS specialists to assist with emerging toxic plant-pest events and need for daily broadcasted plant-pest weather alerts until the levels of toxin in the forage, feed or water is safe for livestock consumption.”

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