AMES, Iowa – Ethanol plants need to be especially cautious of moldy corn this spring due to a humid fall and excessive amounts of corn stored in outdoor piles. According to Charles Hurburgh, grain quality and handling specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, mid-February will bring reports of moldy corn, hot spots and blue eye mold – a fungus turning the germ a bluish color, especially if temperatures do not decrease.
“Ethanol plants are going to have to be careful,” said Hurburgh, who also serves as director of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative. “Contrary to popular belief, moldy corn is the worst thing that can be put in an ethanol plant. The fungi that grow on the corn produce lactic acids. These acids react with the enzymes, the yeast is not happy and the fix is to add antibiotics to the fermenter.”
Ethanol coproducts, known as distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGs), are typically used in livestock feed. The presence of antibiotic residues in ethanol coproducts has been difficult to detect, but the issue is important as society becomes more interested in the production of food.
“Ethanol plants don’t like antibiotics or having to alter the fermentation process,” said Hurburgh. “At the same time, processors don’t want to dump a fermenter after only getting two gallons of ethanol per bushel when they’re used to yielding almost three. The best fix for those kinds of problems is better quality corn. Then ethanol producers are not in that situation in the first place.”
September and October 2016 brought only three days of dew points below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, grain supplies did not reach suitable temperature levels before being placed into storage, which can negatively impact grain quality.
“The issue going forward, will be to get all corn properly cooled and aerated before spoilage worsens,” said Hurburgh.
The Iowa Grain Quality Initiative has developed a set of online learning modules to help producers learn proper grain storage practices. The Iowa Grain Quality Aeration Module (CROP 3083B), produced in cooperation with the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative and Crop Advisor Institute explains how moisture, temperature and time interact to cause grain spoilage. Learn to establish a grain quality monitoring system with frequent temperature checks to prevent spoilage.
Other available modules address grain storage economics, food safety and animal nutrition, supply chain analysis and processing. The modules are free and can be accessed on the Extension Store.