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So, you've got aflatoxin; now what?

Jeff Caldwell 08/29/2012 @ 2:26pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

In a 1,000-bushel load of corn, if 1 kernel's infected with aflatoxin, that's enough to force the farmer to leave the elevator without unloading.

That's the situation that some farmers say they are or could be facing this fall in areas where this summer's drought has caused aflatoxin to become a bigger problem than normal. Though the number of loads testing positive for the fungal disease are low compared to the overall amount of grain starting to roll across the scales, the disease is still raising anxiety among farmers in areas most susceptible to fungal disease in general.

"In south-central Iowa, there are a lot of producers concerned about aflatoxin. We have done some tests but we are still awaiting the results. It seems like the mold that produces aflatoxin is present in a high probability, however the concentration has not been super-high," says Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company of Iowa field supervisor Dereck Klaassen. "Basically, producers are not going to know if they have aflatoxin until they start harvesting and take a sample into their local elevator and have it black-lit. The black light only detects the presents of molds; the mold that is detected may or may not produce aflatoxin."

On Tuesday, the Cargill facility in Eddyville, Iowa, 5 out of hundreds of trucks that cross the scales "glowed" when blacklit (which indicates the presence of mycotoxin), and 3 of those 5 tested positive for over 10 parts per billion (PPB) of aflatoxin, a level that's half the threshold for acceptance at most elevators, 20 PPB. At the Cargill facility, which processes corn for the pet food industry (hence the lower threshold), 6 to 8 samples are taken from each truckload via a pneumatic probe, says senior grain merchandiser at the Eddyville facility, Ray Jenkins.

"We're seeing it, but is it enough to slow the process? Not if it stays at this level," Jenkins says.

But, if yours is one of the loads that shows aflatoxin levels beyond the acceptable amount, what can you do? "Oftentimes, farmers are not aware of the presence of aflatoxin, or at least aware of unacceptable levels of aflatoxin, until they are sitting at the grain elevator and the elevator’s sample shows levels are too high for the elevator to accept," says Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley. "At that juncture, the farmer must take his crop back to the farm and find something to do with it in a timely manner so he or she can get back to the next load of corn coming out of the field."

There are options, though, Jenkins says. At his facility, he keeps a list of local users of corn that's over the acceptable aflatoxin threshold. Most are livestock feeders, he says. "If it's running out the door everywhere, somebody will say 'I'll bid you $5 for it,'" he says. "Maybe it's a $6 or $7 (per bushel) market for it."

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