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No serious disease problems...: Arkansas harvesting good corn crop

Arkansas appears to have an outstanding 190,000-acre corn crop with good yields and no serious disease problems, says William Johnson, wheat and small grains agronomist for the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.

"The statewide average record yield is about 130 bushels of corn per acre. If things hold like they are, we'll surpass that this year. There's a lot of 120- to 150-bushel non-irrigated corn and a lot of 150- to 200-bushel irrigated corn in Arkansas." Johnson said a farmer in northeast Arkansas recently cut 213 bushels per acre in a yield competition for a national corn organization. He said that should be good enough to win in his category.

Harvest has been going on in some areas of the state for several weeks. Corn is grown in 38 counties in eastern Arkansas and the Arkansas River Valley.

While this crop is relatively free of disease problems, farmers and grain elevator operators are still jittery over aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin is a byproduct of a fungus. The fungus may be present on corn, but not necessarily aflatoxin. Aflatoxin has been linked to liver cancer at extremely high rates. There was a serious aflatoxin outbreak in Arkansas in 1998.

Aflatoxin is promoted by drought stress during the growing season, according to Johnson.

"If you have good irrigation and you don't have a lot of stress on the corn, then the likelihood of aflatoxin is minimal. We always advise farmers to irrigate and to use good adapted Southern hybrid corn. If they do this, they shouldn't have any aflatoxin problems."

Johnson said some grain elevator operators who had heard reports of aflatoxin in southern Louisiana recently expressed concern about aflatoxin in Arkansas.

"With these reports, people are starting to get a little nervous," Johnson said.

To get more information, Rick Cartwright, Extension plant pathologist, and Johnson asked county agents to take samples from irrigated and non-irrigated fields. They sent the corn to the state plant board for testing. The plant board completed its testing and found no serious problems, said Johnson.

"Out of 24 samples, only one of them came back over 20 parts per billion (ppb), which is the cutoff level for aflatoxin in grain. Most elevators will not accept grain at levels above 20 ppb."

The testing confirmed what Johnson already suspected. "We were anticipating little or no aflatoxin this year. Our corn went through most of pollination and grain fill with adequate moisture. Many of our Extension verification fields received 4 to 6 inches of rain in June. July is when it got really dry. But the corn was pretty well made before the weather got dry.

"The only positive test was from corn grown on very sandy ground in southeast Arkansas that was drought-stressed. We would normally expect to find aflatoxin in drought stressed corn."

The conclusion? "We have no problem. We have a good clean corn crop that's high quality."

Johnson said farmers taking their grain to elevators are finding a more relaxed atmosphere. "If you bring in a couple of loads of corn and they don't find any aflatoxin, they're not checking the rest of the loads you bring in."

That's in contrast to the aflatoxin scare in 1998. "There was a lot of corn that was good in 1998 but was dumped on the ground and plowed in. Probably a lot of corn that wasn't good was accepted by elevators. Testing sometimes is luck of the draw. You can go to one elevator and get turned down, then drive down the road to another elevator and get tested and they won't find any aflatoxin."

Johnson said one farmer took corn to an elevator and it checked 27 ppb of aflatoxin. The farmer took it across the road to another elevator with a reputation for being stricter, and they found no aflatoxin. "It's not a real easy issue," he noted.

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