If you’ve had any interaction with either grain farmers or livestock producers in the past few weeks, one of the first topics of conversation has been the worsening drought for much of the US grain production area. With another round of 100F temperatures and little/no rain predicted for this week it is a safe bet that everyone will continue to downgrade their yield expectations.
Of course in the livestock industry we’ve been watching the cost of production climb rapidly as grain prices have soared. As the yield declines, there is quite a bit of talk about the competition between ethanol and livestock for the limited bushels expected to be available.
One item that is just beginning to surface is the expected quality of the corn crop. In times of stress such as the weather is providing this year it is not uncommon to have aflatoxin issues in the corn that does make it to harvest. A publication on aflatoxins in corn from Iowa State University (http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1800.pdf) states that the prime conditions for aflatoxin production are warm August nights in a period of drought. OUCH!
The issue is the impact of high aflatoxin levels on the use of the corn. Current FDA guidlelines for interstate commerce of corn is <20 ppb aflatoxin. The reason for this low level is that once corn enters the commercial trade arena it is impossible to segregate it given how we blend and transport corn. Thus, to prevent potential human health problems associated with aflatoxin B1 from corn that enters the human food chain directly, the FDA has set the very low level for trade.
The data does suggest that levels of 100 ppb are safe for the swine breeding herd and up to 200 ppb is safe for grow-finish pig diets. However, purchase of this grain from corn producers will have to be by private treaty as grain merchants have to follow the FDA guidelines. Now is not too early to be talking with your nutritionist about options if you are faced with purchasing/feeding grains with aflatoxin contamination.
Could be an interesting year for those of us purchasing corn, especially in the eastern cornbelt where the drought conditions are the most severe.