As the corn harvest takes off way ahead of normal, yet another consequence of the epic 2012 drought is rearing its very ugly head – aflatoxin, which is caused by a fungus that just loves the kind of weather we’ve had this summer.
“Hot, dry conditions actually promote the fungus Aspergillus flavus,” said USDA plant pathologist Dr. Kitty Cardwell. “When the plant is stressed, particularly high heat stress, it really disposes the crop to be vulnerable to this fungus getting into the grain. Then when it’s harvested and put in storage for awhile, the toxin starts building up in the grain.”
Reports of aflatoxin have already been coming in from states including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana. Last week the Iowa Department of Agriculture started requiring aflatoxin screening and testing of milk and is also instituting a state-wide corn sampling program. “It will show up in the milk if aflatoxin affected corn is used for feed for dairy cattle,” said Dr. Cardwell, noting that there is zero tolerance for aflatoxin when it comes to food that can be fed to infants and young children.
While there are normally reports of aflatoxin every year in some areas, Dr. Cardwell expects that some farmers who have never had the problem will be facing it this year. She offers some advice for growers to self test for the fungus. “Take 10 kernels and put them in a moist paper towel for a day or so,” she said. “If what grows out of the kernel is bright, pea green, that will be Aspergillus flavus.” If all of them turn bright green, it’s time to get your corn tested at a lab.