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Drought could increase mycotoxins in grain, forage

Agriculture.com Staff 02/13/2016 @ 1:24pm

As drought continues to stress livestock and grazing land in the Midwest, many producers will now have to consider another economic setback: mycotoxins.

According to Dr. James Pierce, coordinator of monogastric nutrition at Alltech, drought can bring more mycotoxins to the farm as plants become stressed and more susceptible to disease and infection.

"Historically the worst mycotoxin years are also drought years," Pierce said.

The 2001 research paper "Current concepts in feed-borne mycotoxins and the potential for dietary prevention of mycotoxicose," shows moisture content during the growing and harvesting periods is one key factor in minimizing fungal infestation in crops and mycotoxin accumulation in feedstuffs. The researchers, led by Dr. Trevor Smith of the University of Guelph, stated, during periods of drought, there have been increased reports of fungal penetration and mycotoxin contamination of feed grains.

Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by molds in stored grain, forage, silage and in some pasture grasses. During a drought, these molds are stressed and can produce mycotoxins such as Aflatoxin, Fumonisins, Vomitoxin, T-2 and Ochratoxin and others that can contaminate feed.

These molds reduce nutritive value and create dust and off-flavors that affect palatability. Dairy and beef cattle can suffer from poor feed conversion, reduced milk production, organ damage and fertility problems. Mycotoxicoses in poultry and swine can create problems from reduced feed intake, growth performance and immune function to lasting organ damage and infertility.

Pierce said that there is no "safe" level of mycotoxins in feed.

"There are regulated limits on mycotoxins, but the discovery of one in your grain does not tell you if that is the only one," Pierce said. "Also they seem to work in synergy thus compounding their negative effects."

This can create a dilemma in the field and leave an economic impact on producers.

While there is no known way to prevent the formation of mycotoxins, Pierce had a few suggestions for producers to battle fungal growth. "Proper drying and storage techniques are a good defense," Pierce said. "Also the use of a quality mycotoxin control agent is essential to ensure animal health."

As drought continues to stress livestock and grazing land in the Midwest, many producers will now have to consider another economic setback: mycotoxins.

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