Corn producers advocate for alfatoxin research funding

Source of Article:

Pat Kopecki
Wilson County News
April 7, 2009

Local corn producers face many challenges as they grow corn each year, ranging from the ongoing drought to production costs to the problem of aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin, a mycotoxin or fungi that can affect animal and human health, occurs naturally in corn, cotton, peanuts, and tree nuts, and is commonly found in the Southern states. This problem is so prevalent that nearly half of Texas counties have one or more corn samples that exceed the maximum level that is acceptable to sell to grain elevators.

In able to assist farmers with their ongoing battle with aflatoxin, corn
producers from Texas and four other Southern states visited Capitol Hill in March to address their congressional representatives with their concerns and to lobby for agricultural research funding for aflatoxin.

The group is asking for $5 million a year, for the next five years, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish and operate the Aflatoxin Center of Excellence of the South.

David Gibson, executive vice president of the Corn Producers Association of Texas, said that the “research efforts will focus on biological control and ecology, breeding and genetics for resistance, best management practices, and remediation of contaminated grain.”

Gibson is excited that the research would go beyond just the research stage and advance to the commercial side, thus assisting the producers.

The Texas AgriLife Research Agency of the Texas A&M University System is just one of the five land-grant universities joining the corn producers in their pursuit of finding ways to add value to the corn that farmers produce and at the same time, promoting safety to consumers for not only the corn eaten, but also as a source of feed used to finish livestock.

Thus far, 23 agricultural groups have pledged partnership as this group seeks funding, Gibson said.

The year 2005 was a very bad year for aflatoxin, Gibson said, when farmers received high deductions at the grain elevators.

In 2007, the price farmers received was reduced 25 cents for every bushel of corn that tested positive for aflatoxin with over 20 parts per billion (ppb). A 50-cents-per-bushel deduction was given for corn tested with a 200- to 300-ppb count.

Aflatoxin loss is estimated at $5 million to $6 million annually. In 2005, aflatoxin cost the farmers $25 million to $30 million, Gibson said. Some farmers could not even sell their grain.

In Texas and the Southern states area, a loss of $200 million can be attributed to aflatoxin due to heat and drought stress annually.

Regulation guidelines were established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Texas State Chemist to determine if corn testing positive with aflatoxin can be used for human consumption.

Acceptable levels of aflatoxin are less than 20 ppb for human consumption and for use as feed in dairy cattle, because of aflatoxin being found in the milk.

Gibson said corn is being blended or mixed with other corn to achieve a 50- to 350-ppb level, so the grain may be used in feedlots. This discount given by the grain elevators is credited to the costs involved in blending and moving to appropriate markets.

Farmers must destroy the crop in the field if aflatoxin testing is found at 500 ppb or more, and the corn cannot be used as feed to finish cattle in the feedlots.

The first testing procedures were developed in the 1990s, when the problem
of alfatoxin was found in corn being sold at the grain elevators. Since that time, more precise testing has been developed and acceptable levels established by the government agencies.

Texas is ranked No. 12 in annual receipts for the production of corn, with $1 billion annual sales. Gibson said less corn will be planted this year, due to the ongoing drought conditions.




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