When several elevator operators and a host of ag industry officials gathered to discuss the vomitoxin issue at the Farm Service Agency office in Indianapolis recently, the elevator folks went to bat for their counterparts in the ethanol industry. Some of the elevators, in fact, sell to ethanol plants, handling the corn merchandising for them.
Some farmers have been disturbed that ethanol plans reject corn with levels of vomitoxin that other commercial elevators may accept. The other elevators may dock for it, but many will take it. Vomitoxin is the toxin left behind after Gibberella ear mold invades corn in the field. While the problem is worst in northeast Indiana, scattered fields in central and northern Indiana were affected, largely because of cool, wet weather during pollination and grain fill last year.
Elevator operators can either blend or channel corn with moderate levels of vomitoxin to corn buyers who can handle it, the operators say. Ethanol plants don't have that luxury. One problem, insiders say, is that vomitoxin in corn may reduce the yield of ethanol. However, most elevator men believe the problem is more with the by-products, primarily DDGS, distillers grains that are then sold for livestock feed. The concentrations of vomitoxin can be doubled or even rippled in the DDGS compared to the level that came in the front gate of the plant in the load of corn. In some cases, that makes the levels unacceptable.
"The problem is truly in the DDGS," says John Brammerson, head of several elevators with Co-Alliance. This giant co-operative and partnership is based in Danville, Ind., but has locations throughout central and northern Indiana, and even into southern Michigan.
"We have our own hog operation associated with our partner in LaPorte that also operates in southern Michigan," he says. "We know that the DDGs thing is an issue. Right now, we're buying our DDGS from out of state because we want to make sure that they are clean of vomitoxin."
The problem in hogs is that they're the most sensitive animal to DON. The first reaction is often refusal of grain. That's how some farmers even in central Indiana knew that some fields had the toxin, insiders say. Pigs refused grain. On at least one farm, it came down to taking a quick test to every field to find field with little or no vomitoxin to find corn to harvest and grind for hog feed last fall.