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Aflatoxin levels low in Louisiana corn

Corn harvest across Louisiana is beginning and isolated low levels of aflatoxin have been detected. According to the latest statistics provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Louisiana farmers planted approximately 500,000 acres of corn this year. Only the earliest corn acreage has been harvested with full scale harvesting set to occur during mid to late August.

Consequently, the earlier-planted corn was also the most drought-stressed throughout the growing season. The areas with the highest aflatoxin reports have been in northern Point Coupee Parish and southeast Avoylles Parish, which had some of the earliest corn growing in the driest conditions.

Aflatoxin concerns spread across Louisiana after the outbreak that devastated the corn crop in 1998. Aflatoxin in 1998 forced many farmers out of the corn business — acres of corn planted dropped from 700,000 in 1998 to 340,000 in 1999.

Acreage has begun to increase again slowly and could exceed 500,000 acres next year if prices continue to increase and reports of aflatoxin this year remain low.

The Food and Drug Administration's aflatoxin limits or action levels that are acceptable in animal feeds range from 20 to 300 parts per billion (ppb). The FDA guidelines are used by grain elevators to determine the appropriate channel to market grain to end-users.

According to sources at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, some samples that have been analyzed tested positive for aflatoxin while other samples have had no aflatoxin detected.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is establishing an aflatoxin-testing facility in Jonesville, La., for remote testing in that part of the state. The opinion from the department at this point of the harvest season is that we are in a “normal” year — some aflatoxin but not enough to warrant widespread panic at this time.

Matt Thibodeaux, a commercial trader for Bunge in Greenville, Miss., said “there have been isolated occurrences of aflatoxin on some of the earliest corn harvested — which was to be expected — but it is slowing down as the harvest progresses.”

Thibodeaux also said, “St. Joseph, Tallulah, and Transylvania have had no reports of aflatoxin.”

Johnny O'Neal, manager of Central Louisiana Grain Co-op south of Alexandria, La., said he has “not had much corn brought in as of yet but some of his samples were running around 25 to 30 ppb.”

Brad Terral of Terral Farm Service in Delhi, La., reported “aflatoxin occurrences have been minimal and extremely low… Terral is receiving corn from Mer Rouge to Wisner and reporting no aflatoxin.”

Rick Calhoun, vice president of North American Grain and Oil Seeds for Cargill, said, “After one strong week of harvesting, the number of positive tests was not particularly high but neither was it particularly low.” He believes Louisiana will have a normal year with aflatoxin detected in some cases but not in a devastating number of cases.

An early report on yield from Heath Finley at Terral Farm Service is that “dryland corn yields are ranging from 70 to about 150 bushels per acre with irrigated corn ranging from 150 to 175 bushels per acre.”

Miles Brashier, county agent in Point Coupee Parish, said that “for the most part, the parish is running around the 140 (bushels) mark, with exceptions here and there.”

There is still a great deal of corn drying down in fields that received just-in-time rains during kernel formation. The general consensus of the growers, county agents, researchers, and agribusiness personnel I spoke with was that we will find some isolated occurrences of aflatoxin — primarily in the south central to southeast part of the state, which had the driest growing conditions — but as the season progresses, occurrences should continue to decrease.

David Y. Lanclos is the soybean, corn and grain sorghum specialist at LSU AgCenter.

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