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Aflatoxin testing is issue in Central Texas

Corn growers in Central Texas were having to dump corn in the fields or plow their crop under because of excessively high aflatoxin levels, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

Bell County, which is east of Killeen, had a lot of rain in late June and early July, then high humidity, followed by extreme dry hot conditions, said Dirk Aaron, AgriLife Extension agent.

"We're in our 24th day of over 100 degrees and many of those days have been over 104," Aaron said. "So conditions were ripe for aflatoxin levels to be excessively high, and it's hurting growers in the pocketbook in a big way."

Testing methods by elevators are also causing a lot of "farmer angst," Aaron said, with many crying foul.

No one is arguing that aflatoxin levels are high, he said. In many cases above 300 parts per billion, and in some cases they are above 500 parts per billion. Above 20 parts per billion, the usage regulations for corn become complicated, he said.

"A facility right now can take anything up to 20 parts per billion (and that) can be put directly into commercial channels," Aaron said. "But when you get above 20, new levels come into play. For example, 50 is the limit on wildlife; 100 is the limit on breeding cattle, lactating goats, poultry and sheep. But then finishing swine can go up to 200 parts per billion. And of course, for the feedlot industry, when grain is used for finishing cattle in confinement, they can go up to 300 parts per billion."

Technically, at aflatoxin levels more than 500 parts per billion, the crop is supposed to be destroyed, according to Aaron.

All this puts a lot of management strain on elevators, particularly small ones that can't separate corn with corn with different aflatoxin levels, he said.

But in some cases, the testing method can seem highly arbitrary, Aaron said. A load from one part of the field may test at acceptable levels, while another load can be rejected. Worse, farmers may take the same load of corn that's been rejected at one elevator and go to another and perhaps get an acceptable report.

According to Aaron, what's needed is a standardized system for testing. Some elevators are taking a single or limited number or samples off one truck and perhaps hitting a hot spot, while other elevators are taking random samples to get a more accurate idea of the how the load would test once it's mixed.

"We need mandated criteria that insure it's done the same at every buying point," he said. "It all needs to be tested in the exact same way."

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