The harvest of 2017 is sure to go down in the history books — if it’s ever completed. Producers, growers and agronomists in northern Wisconsin and New York State are between a rock and a hard place as they wait for corn to dry down in the field, but face frequent moisture events and sloppy fields.
“We’re seeing standing corn moisture levels as high as 29%,” explained Don Meyer, Rock River Laboratory president. “That same corn is withstanding temperatures varying from below freezing to 50°F, creating an ideal environment to grow toxin-producing molds, not to mention the resulting kernel damage from moisture in the kernels upon freezing.”
This perfect storm of conditions is ideal for growing fusarium mold, otherwise known as "ear rot," which produces vomitoxin, otherwise known as deoxynivalenol (DON), and zearalenone toxins (among others).
“These molds grow in corn litter that’s left in the field, so corn-on-corn rotations have the potential for this mold and toxin problem to develop if conditions arise like we’re seeing this fall,” Meyer explained.
Fusarium mold and its subsequent mycotoxins can wreak havoc on dairy and beef cattle digestive and immune systems. However, the cost of toxins isn’t limited to just meat and milk producers. Cash crop corn growers are also at risk of destructive toxins.
“Milk production reduction, low bushel weights and potential rejection of corn sold as grain could all be realized as repercussions of fusarium mold found in corn,” Meyer said.
John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research and innovation director added, “Mycotoxins can synergistically work together to suppress the immune system and challenge the kidneys, liver and gut health, to affect overall health and performance.”
Identify to combat
Before any fixing can be done, growers and producers should first find out if their corn is infected with molds — the predecessors to mycotoxins. “Walk in the fields and look for ear rot and signs of mold growth,” Goeser said, adding that molds aren’t usually evenly distributed throughout a corn crop. “It would be great if growers could just avoid infected areas in the fields, but clean and dirty corn can cohabit.”
“We recommend doing a mold identification analysis to establish if a fusarium-type mold is present in the corn,” Meyer said. “Another option is to skip the mold analysis and do an analysis for DON. DON is an indicator toxin, which means that if DON is present, the corn could also be hosting other toxins, causing their own challenges.”
Growers and producers should consult with their nutritionists and agronomists to identify the means to mitigate the challenges associated with fusarium mold and its descendant toxins. “Diluting contaminated corn with clean corn prior to feeding — either purchased or from a non-infected field — may help reduce the potential damages from feeding contaminated corn,” Goeser said. “With the potential for various toxins working together, it’s important to work with consultants to identify the contaminants and then work on creating a mitigation plan specific to each farm.”