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How to Handle Aflatoxin Issues in Corn

How to Handle Aflatoxin Issues in Corn
The key is taking precautions ahead of time.

If you're in one of the blessed spots that received rain, aflatoxin produced by Aspergillus mold may not be as big of an issue. It is most generally produced when the fungus finds hot, dry, stressed conditions, and then gets moisture and warm temperatures late in the season. This year matches up pretty well, enough for plant pathologists to be concerned about how much of the mold might appear.

The weather around Labor Day was ideal for the disease, says Chuck Woloshuk, plant pathologist at Purdue University. The cool week that followed may have tempered its growth, but some days of above-normal temperature and high humidity returned last week. That's not a good sign.

FILL BINS CAREFULLY: Don't mix corn that has aflatoxin with corn that doesn't have it. If you have aflatoxin, you will want to harvest and handle that corn separately, and dry it to low moisture levels quickly.

While the toxin has been identified, it's still not clear whether it will be a big concern or not. But the best advice is taking precautions, Woloshuk says.

If you haven't already harvested corn, especially if it was badly stressed, think about doing it soon. Before you do, you may want to do three key things. First, contact your insurance agent. If you have crop insurance, and it's not a GRIP policy, you have coverage on quality issues, including dock or rejection due to aflatoxin. However, it must be identified before you harvest and bin the corn. Once the corn is binned, it is no longer insured, insurance specialists say. And if corn containing Aspergillus mold on the kernels hit the bin and the corn isn't dried quickly, the mold and aflatoxin levels it produces can increase rapidly.

Farmers are complaining that if they are ready to run a field and call their insurance agent, they tell them it may be three to four days before they can get there to pull samples. That's due to an overload on crop insurance adjustors. The best advice is to call several days before you are ready to harvest a particular field if you suspect a problem and want it checked.

To qualify for crop insurance the ears must be tested at a lab approved by the Risk Management Agency. If you want to know for your own purposes, you can have samples tested at commercial labs, or at the Purdue University Animal Disease and Diagnostic Labs either at West Lafayette or in Dubois.

Finally, if you find out that you may have aflatoxin in your corn, talk to your elevator before you take in corn. It's best to plan out a strategy rather than show up with a load of corn and then find out they can't accept it.

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