Every year some Texas corn producing areas south of the Red River experience higher than normal levels of aflatoxin. This year has been no exception. It has hit Central Texas, which produces approximately 15 percent of the Texas corn crop, according to the Texas Corn Producers Board, with headquarters in Lubbock, Texas.

While the entire Central Texas region has recorded varying levels of aflatoxin this year, it has struck the Blacklands particularly hard.

“Unfortunately, the southern part of the Blacklands had a bad combination of weather events this year that produced conditions where this fungus could thrive and it’s been just devastating to some of our producers,” said David Gibson, executive director of TCPB.

Adding to their problems and frustration, some producers in the area feel victimized by inconsistent sampling and testing methods. Having good samples is essential to testing accuracy Gibson said.

A uniform sampling method is not used across all buying points in the state; while some grain elevators use probes to collect testing samples others scoop samples from the top of the trucks. This inconsistency in turn affects the test results.

Parts per billion

These facilities are measuring levels in parts per billion (PPB), which means they are essentially testing for one kernel of corn in a 45-foot high, 16-foot diameter grain bin; this would be like searching for one second of time in 32 years, which equates to 1 ppb. When needing such a precise measurement, it is crucial to obtain a testing sample that accurately reflects the grains’ overall condition.

“We have a good system for keeping certain levels of aflatoxin out of our food and feed supplies, but we need to take a closer look at some of the sampling methods to safeguard the interests of both consumers and producers,” Gibson said.

More than 90 percent of the Texas corn crop is bought for livestock feed and used within the state. The total production of corn in Texas is going to exceed 225 million bushels this year. Approximately two-thirds of the corn is produced in the Panhandle and High Plains where aflatoxin is very rare, with the rest of the state accounting for the balance of production.

Major TCPB focus

Aflatoxin has been a major focus of research funded by the Texas Corn Producers Board through the statewide corn checkoff program.

“Public and private research efforts are starting to produce some positive results, but much more research needs to be done,” Gibson said. “We have some producers who report they have been able to reduce their aflatoxin risk by using certain practices and products. We are making progress, but that’s no consolation to producers who have suffered losses to this disease.”

TCPB Chairman Scott Averhoff farms corn in Ellis County, near Waxahachie, and said he has seen a significant reduction with the use of atoxigenics (strains of the fungus that do not produce toxins). The practice has been established from research funded by TCPB.

“I used atoxigenics on all of our farms except one this year,” Averhoff said. “The farms where an atoxigenic material was used were significantly lower in aflatoxin, allowing us to market that corn in a premium market. The untreated farm was severely discounted in the market.”

While aflatoxin is a disease that Texas corn producers face year-after-year in parts of the state due to environmental conditions, continued research progress will help producers reduce aflatoxin levels and diminish financial loss to this disease. Producers are encouraged to adapt the newest control measures, genetic advances, and follow good cultural practices for producing corn in the future.