Aflatoxin Awareness in NW Iowa

Joel DeJong, Extension Field Agronomist, Northwest Area

Problem Statement

The summer of 2007 brought a long stretch of time with almost no rainfall to parts of NW Iowa. Some farmers reported well under 1 of rainfall during a time period from mid-May until August 3, when rainfall patterns again became much more consistent. Moisture and heat stress during ear fill can lead to situations where some fungi, particularly aflatoxin, a carcinogen, can be found in some fields. Levels of aflatoxin in corn are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to insure that feed and food related to these products is safe.

Programmatic Response

The Extension Field Agronomist in the NW corner of Iowa received a report of a field in Plymouth County that tested positive for aflatoxin in early September. After that, several fields were examined for the presence of the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can produce the aflatoxin, and it was visible in several fields. Therefore, an awareness campaign for NW Iowa was begun.

Newsletter articles, news releases, interviews with radio, newspaper and TV stations were done to help the farmers become aware of the potential problem. Discussions were held with staff at several grain outlets trying to clarify the risks and responsibilities. Discussions with insurance carriers also helped to clarify what the FDA requirements were, and where uses were safe or hazardous. For grain merchandisers, the risk is in having grain that does not meet standards which would make it impossible to sell to certain outlets. For livestock producers, information was shared to help understand what levels of the toxin were safe in various feedstuffs. Crop producers who had insurance policies had to be aware of the need for identifying if the toxin was in their crop before storage otherwise they would not be eligible for any insurance coverage for losses from this mold. And, proper storage information was shared to help prevent the increase in the level of aflatoxin in grain while in storage.

Almost all grain merchandisers in Plymouth County and in some parts of other counties close to the area that seemed to have aflatoxin hot spots began testing every load for levels of aflatoxin. If levels were high, then the grain was separated and found an acceptable use in animal rations but monitored very carefully to insure that these levels were indeed safe for livestock. One elevator reported that almost 30% of the early loads were positive for aflatoxin, but that number dropped to under 10% as harvest wore on.

Although not all clients were happy with how the insurance system worked, a very high percentage of crop producers in Plymouth County were in contact with their agent and had their fields assessed before harvesting giving them the insurance coverage they needed in many cases. Concern still exists for the testing process, and for how the system for insurance works, but a lot of tests and samples have helped reduce the risk of this problem in feed and food.

#100 - Corn and Soybean Production and Protection

Page last updated: April 11, 2008
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