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Aflatoxin may cause storage losses this fall
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is reminding farmers that proper grain handling storage practices are essential to prevent storage losses from the spread of toxin-producing fungus.

IDOA tests on corn samples have shown the presence of aflatoxin, a potentially harmful by-product of a fungus, aspergillus, which thrives in drought conditions, an IDOA spokesperson said. The levels of the toxin are “generally manageable” and grain should be safe to use for animal feed, according to the IDOA, though the department warns that not all grain has been tested.

Jeff Squib, a state communications manager for IDOA, said feed refusal, reduced growth rate, decreased milk production and decreased feed efficiency are the primary signs of chronic aflatoxin poisoning.

“In addition, weight loss, listlessness, rough hair coat and mild diarrhea may occur,” Squib told Farm World. “Aflatoxicosis also may impair reproductive efficiency, including abnormal estrous cycles and abortions. Other symptoms may include impaired immune response, anemia, and increased susceptibility to other diseases.”

Squibb said dairy and beef cattle are more prone to aflatoxicosis than are sheep. Young animals of all species are more susceptible than mature ones, and pregnant and growing animals are less likely to contract aflatoxicosis than are young ones, though they are more prone than mature animals are, Squibb explained.

Jim Larkin, bureau chief of the state’s agricultural products inspection division, said the fungus is likely to occur in drought years because its natural predators - bacteria and other fungi - don’t fare well in a dry environment. “But, just like with other fungi, in warm moist conditions aflatoxin can spread and contaminate an entire bin of grain,” Larkin cautioned.

To prevent contamination, Larkin said that stored grain should be dried to a moisture content of no more than 13 percent, and recommends screening grain before storage to remove cracked and shriveled kernels that are more susceptible to contamination. Larkin further recommends keeping grain storage temperatures cool and ventilating bins adequately to prevent moisture buildup.

The IDOA said the amount of aflatoxin livestock can tolerate varies according to the species and the animal’s age. Farmers are recommended to consult their veterinarians or local extension office before starting a feeding program.

Larkin recommends having grain tested for the toxin by either their supplier or the IDOA, whose chemistry lab charges $25 for the test. They can be reached at 217-785-8504.

Published in the November 9, 2005 issue of Farm World.