Aflatoxin Plagues the Southeast Iowa Corn Crop

Mark Carlton, Field Specialist/Crops, Southeast Iowa; Clete Swackhamer, Appanoose County Extension Education Director; Sandra McLain, Van Buren County Extension Education Director

Problem Statement
Counties in southeast Iowa suffered severe drought conditions in 2005.  Corn under drought stress is susceptible to infection from the fungus Aspergillus flavus which is known to produce the carcinogenic mycotoxin aflatoxin.  Not only were many corn growers unaware of the possible problem, they were unaware of marketing and feeding problems associated with aflatoxin infected corn.  Grain buyers were confused on how to evaluate corn coming into their elevators.  Insurance companies were not clear on how producers should verify aflatoxin problems fields or how growers were covered under RMA policies. 
Programmatic Response
Beginning on September 8th, Mark Carlton, ISU Field Specialist/Crops, began an effort to increase producers awareness of the impending problem.  Through emails sent to a producer elist, newspaper articles, and radio and television announcements, Carlton encouraged corn growers to examine their corn fields for evidence of Aspergillus flavus.  As reports of infected corn began to surface, Carlton along with Clete Swackhamer, Appanoose and Davis County CEED, and Sandra McLain, Van Buren County CEED, arranged six Aflatoxin management meetings in southeast Iowa.  Corn growers, livestock producers, grain elevator operators, and crop insurance agents were invited to attend and participate in the meetings.
One hundred twenty eight corn growers, livestock producers, elevator operators, and insurance agents attended 6 aflatoxin meetings.
Corn growers where taught how to identify Aspergillus flavus in the field, were informed that any grain testing more than 20 ppb would be rejected at local elevators, and were instructed how to properly handle and store grain to prevent an increase in aflatoxin during storage.  They were informed by insurance agents that corn needed to be tested in the field prior to harvest by an insurance person in order to be insured.  Many were able to find markets for infected grain.
Livestock producers were informed of aflatoxin concentrations that could be safely feed to various livestock.  Dairy producers attending the meeting were encouraged to test all corn for aflatoxin and to make sure that any corn that they fed was free of aflatoxin.
Elevator operators who had been using fluorescence under a black light to determine the presence of aflatoxin switched to more quantitative ELISA type tests.
Insurance agents were able to inspect fields prior to harvest and cover insurance losses.
Ninety two percent of the people who attended the aflatoxin meetings said that the information presented was excellent and beneficial to their operation or business.  Corn growers and livestock producers across southeast Iowa conceivably could have saved millions of dollars in harvest or feeding losses.  

February, 2006
142 - Integrated Crop and Pest Management

Page last updated: July 9, 2006
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