Corn farmers in some parts of the U.S. Plains are finding their newly harvested crop has to be heavily discounted or cannot be sold at all due to the presence of a vicious fungus that makes the corn dangerous to eat.
The culprit is aflatoxin toxins produced by a fungus that can harm and possibly kill livestock and are considered carcinogenic to animals and humans.
It s the worst I ve seen, said Dennis Elbrader, Cherokee County extension agent in southeast Kansas.
Aflatoxin is a common problem for corn farmers in the United States and can impact cotton and peanut crops among others. But this year, amid one of the longest and most devastating droughts in U.S. history, the fungus is being seen in concentration levels far above common thresholds for safety set by the U.S. government.
Elbrader said some growers have had to plow under their crop, while in some areas farmers are absorbing a discount as high as $1 a bushel when tests reveal high levels of aflatoxin.
The condition generally occurs when the weather is hot, humid and droughty during the grain fill period of development. This year triple-digit temperatures and extended drought conditions plagued Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas much of the summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday that about 10 per cent of the total U.S. crop had been harvested as of Sunday.
While some levels of aflatoxin are considered acceptable generally under 100-150 parts per billion anything over 300 parts per billion is generally not usable, according to grain experts.
But some producers in the Plains are harvesting corn testing at 500 parts per billion or more. There have been reports as high as 1,000 ppb.
The presence of the aflatoxin has meant not only lower income for farmers looking to sell their crop, but also headaches finding a home for the grain.
At certain levels the affected grain can t be sold for food or animal feed. Most ethanol producers also shun the corn because the toxins can become concentrated in the distillers grains made as a byproduct of ethanol and used for livestock feed.
The aflatoxin problem comes as many farmers are suffering a shortened corn crop anyway due to poor weather conditions.
It is just one more thing that has gone wrong this year, said Doug Jardine Kansas State University plant pathologist.
The guys (farmers) are so beat down and here is one more thing beating down on them, he said. Millions of dollars are paid annually from crop insurance to corn growers with aflatoxin-contaminated grain. In 2008, more than $15 million was paid for corn crop losses due to aflatoxin, according to the Aflatoxin Mitigation Center of Excellence.
Thepresenceofthe aflatoxinhasmeant notonlylowerincome forfarmerslookingto selltheircrop,butalso headachesfindinga homeforthegrain.