Farmers, crop inspectors and grain elevators in Nebraska, Iowa and other corn-producing states are keeping an eye out for corn contaminated by a poison-producing fungus.
They’re watching for signs of aflatoxins that, in sufficient quantity, are poisonous to humans and animals. The hot, dry summer conditions are ripe for their occurrence.
Back in the Nebraska drought year of 2002, the state corn crop had a high amount of aflatoxin, Mark Fulmer, of Lincoln Inspection Service, told the Lincoln Journal Star
“Since then, there’s been basically nothing,” Fulmer said. “This year is a huge concern with the amount of aflatoxin that could be in this crop.”
Iowa officials said dairy farmers will be required to start testing milk on Aug. 31.
“Now that farmers are starting to harvest silage, and corn in some cases, it is appropriate to begin this screening process to make sure our milk supply remains safe,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said in a statement. He said milk processors must test tanker trucks and cans of milk coming from farms on a weekly basis.
Little or no rain has already been the bane of Corn Belt farmers this year.
The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly map showed just over two-thirds of Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, was in extreme or exceptional drought as of Aug. 23. Nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois were listed in extreme or exceptional drought.
There have been plenty of record-setting heat waves in those states as well.
Alison Robertson, a plant pathologist at Iowa State, says aflatoxins need nights with temperatures greater than 70 degrees and days with temperatures higher than 86 degrees to develop.
Aflatoxins are a group of chemicals produced by certain mold fungi, experts say. Livestock have died from ingesting aflatoxin-contaminated feed. The most abundant aflatoxin is carcinogenic, experts said, which raises concerns for humans, because aflatoxin can be found in milk from dairy cows fed contaminated corn.
Corn samples Fulmer’s company has tested this summer show little or no contamination. But he said some of the corn has tested as high as 80 parts per billion. That’s four times the federal threshold for human consumption, 20 parts per billion. Corn above that level also cannot be fed to dairy animals.
It takes only one highly contaminated kernel in a five-pound sample of corn to result in more than 20 parts per billion, according to Iowa State University Extension.
The animal feed threshold varies depending on the animal’s age and other factors, but 300 parts per billion is the maximum.