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Elevators test corn for toxins

Staff writer

Corn harvest has begun in Marion County. Much of the crop has been subjected to severe drought stress during a large part of the growing season.

Farmers who have corn to harvest may consider themselves lucky as many have had to write it off as a total loss. A lot of corn has been chopped for silage feed.

The grain industry is requiring that elevator managers test the corn that is being harvested to determine the level of aflatoxins in the grain. Any grain that contains more than 20 parts per billion can not be sold to mills for livestock feed and is considered unsafe for humans.

Aflatoxins are toxic substances or molds caused by a fungus which flourishes in corn during times of high temperatures and drought.

This problem poses challenges for elevators and customers alike. For one thing, testing a corn sample requires approximately eight minutes, which is a lot of time when truck drivers are anxious to get their grain unloaded and get back to the field.

It requires samples to be ground fine, then mixed with water and chemicals and run through a tester.

Mike Thomas, manager of Cooperative Grain and Supply, said he tests a sample from the first load that comes in from a field. If the sample tests less than 20 ppb, no more samples are needed.

A farmer takes a cut in the price per bushel if the results are higher than 20 ppb.

Thomas said how the corn kernel looks is not an indicator of how it will test. He said some corn that looks bad tests OK, and some corn that looks OK tests high.

To facilitate movement of trucks during busy times, samples are bagged and identified for later testing.

Thomas said the co-op has taken samples that ranged from 2 to 29 ppb so far. Most have been in the safe range.

Grain has been coming from upland fields. The normal test weight for corn is 56 pounds per bushel, but this year the Marion elevator is taking in corn commonly weighing 51 to 53 pounds per bushel and some in the 40s, Thomas said. He expects the corn to improve as it comes in from the river bottom and irrigated fields.

According to Roger Will of Agri-Producers, Inc., Tampa, the cooperative has been testing corn samples for aflatoxins at three of its elevator locations — Tampa, Herington, and Gypsum.

He said of the samples taken so far, most have come back negative, or below 20 ppb, indicating the possibility that aflatoxins may not be a major concern in those areas.

With the corn harvest expected to be lower than in previous years, the price should remain high. So, even if some farmers may have to take a cut on some of their corn, the price should more than make up for the loss. At 11:15 a.m. Monday, the price was $7.40 a bushel.

Last modified Sept. 1, 2011

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