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Weather, aflatoxin top harvest-time worries

Jeff Caldwell 09/19/2012 @ 10:16am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though most farmers harvesting corn likely won't need the extra time, Mother Nature's going to provide just that, according to the latest weather forecast looking ahead to mid-November.

In their latest 31- to 60-day outlook, MDA EarthSat Weather ag meteorologists see a dry pattern prevailing over the Plains and Midwest. Though that's not the best news in the world for winter wheat farmers in the former region looking to get a good stand before the crop heads into winter dormancy, it's good news for corn and soybean farmers looking to get harvest wrapped up.

"The continued drier pattern in the central Plains will maintain moisture shortages and some stress on establishment of the wheat, while the drier pattern in the central and northern Midwest will favor late harvesting of corn and soybeans as well as winter wheat planting," says MDA senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney.

On Monday, USDA's weekly Crop Progress report showed U.S. farmers have 26% of the nation's corn crop already in the bin, way ahead of the normal pace.

That accelerated harvest pace the current weather window's permitting is reeling in widely variable results. "Yields are all over the place, lower and higher than expected," says Blandinsville, Illinois, farmer Colby Hunt. "But overall, harvest is rocking."

Specifically, the degree to which yields were affected by this summer's drought depend on one thing, at least in George Kakasuleff's area around Cicero, Indiana. "Yields are all over the place depending on if you got rain July 4th weekend," he says.

Concerns about aflatoxin in this year's corn crop continue to follow farmers as they progress through fall. Kelly Robertson of Benton, Illinois, says he expects to run into the toxic fungal disease in the fields he'll harvest this fall.

"Crop insurance looked at over half my corn crop and estimated it below 10 bushels/acre, so I will end up destroying those acres and will concentrate on harvesting my two best farms," he says. "I suspect that the one will make sub 40 bushel corn and the other might make near 100 but the aflatoxin is going to be a problem on where I can sell it I think."

For farmers like Robertson in Iowa, though, help on the aflatoxin front came Tuesday with the announcement the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Iowa Agriculture Department's request to allow blending of aflatoxin-infected (fewer than 20 parts per billion) grain with clean grain for livestock feed.

"Each batch of blended corn must be analyzed to determine the aflatoxin level. The analysis must be performed using approved sampling and analysis protocols and testing procedures outlined by the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). These results must be provided to the purchaser of the blended corn. The purchaser must also provide written assurance that the corn will be used for feed consistence with FDA guidance," according to a report from Dustin Vande Hoef with the Iowa Agriculture Department on Tuesday. "Finally, the blended corn must be clearly identified and labeled for animal feed use only and corn containing aflatoxin levels greater than 500 ppb cannot be blended."

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