On any given year aflatoxin may devastate corn crops in several Southern corn-growing states, hampering growers’ ability to use or market their grain.

Finding a solution to the problem may require a concerted effort by land grant universities, corn (and other crop) organizations and producers, said David Baltensperger, department head, Texas A&M Soil and Crop Sciences.

Baltensperger, speaking at the recent Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco, said a “loosely knit consortium” of state land grant universities from North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas is working with state corn boards and producers to “elevate the issue of aflatoxin at the federal level.

“Big corn states don’t recognize how devastating aflatoxin can be in the South,” he said.

Several ideas have been discussed during two meetings in Alabama, including:

  • Remediation using clay binders and other technologies. “This is not a quick process,” Baltensperger said,” and requires research. We need trials, including animal trials and that is costly.”
  • Greater use of biological controls. “Afla-Guard and AF-36 are on the market. We need to see greater use of these.” Biologicals will reduce aflatoxin contamination, he said. “We will still have issues with moldy corn and black light tests will trigger responses, so we also need better testing methods. We also don’t know as much about application timing as we need to.”
  • Breeding efforts. “We released resistant germplasm this year. It’s not host-plant resistance but a combination of characteristics that resist Aspergillus flavus from entering the corn kernel. We also need to encourage growers to know the susceptibility of the hybrids they grow. Some of that information is either not known or not published. Growers should demand this information from seed companies. We know differences exist and that some hybrids have increased levels of susceptibility to aflatoxin.”
  • Basic genomics. “We need to explore genetically modified hybrids that might affect resistance to aflatoxin.”

The consortium has met two years in a row and has a meeting scheduled for this spring. “So far, we have generated no funding,” Baltensperger said. “We know funding is tight, but aflatoxin needs to be elevated, and we will need grower support.”

Growers cannot expect an immediate solution. “Research takes time. We have some recommended applications but not a research solution; those will be five or 10 years down the road.”

Tom Isakeit, Texas AgriLife Extension plant pathologist said, in response to a question, that fungicide testing has not identified products so far that will control aflatoxin.

“We have not tested fungicides that were effective,” he said. “We’ve field-tested with Afla-Guard and fungicides and have found no effect.”