Alltech highlights mycotoxin risks lurking in current, upcoming feed crops

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Martina Simonazzi
© GettyImages/Martina Simonazzi

Related tags Mycotoxins swine Poultry

Weather-delayed planting, variable crop maturity and crop damage could all provide a basis for mycotoxin presence in the current feed crop, says an expert with Alltech.

The Kentucky-based feed additive company presented information Friday [August 9] in a webinar regarding analyses done on current feed ingredients and forage material, and highlighted some of the potential risks for feeds growing now as part of a look at ways to address crop damage.

Understanding current production provides producers a way to assess where their livestock are and prepare, said Max Hawkins, mycotoxin and harvest expert with Alltech. He also addressed potential effects from growing conditions and what the late or variable planting could mean regarding mycotoxin presence in the fall.

Producers need to know where they are and what is present in current feeds, he said during the webinar. “Because that’s setting the stage to magnify problems that we could have with the new crop both with corn grain and corn silage,” ​he added.

“We’re starting to get more information,”​ he said. “A lot of information is going to be coming in over the next two to three weeks.”

Current feed challenges

Corn samples that have been analyzed since January have been showing about seven mycotoxins in every sample, which is somewhat typical, said Hawkins. More of the risk is coming from mycotoxin in the Deoxynivalenol (DON) family along with fumonisin and fusaric acid.

However, there has been some risk from mycotoxins like aflatoxin, citrinin, trichothecenes B and A and zearalenone, he said. In some parts of the country penicillium mycotoxins, aspergillus and ergot toxins also have been starting to appear.  

“These higher risk values are out there and could be in your bin waiting to impact your livestock,”​ he added.

The feed ingredient could present a high risk for dairy and beef cattle, however, blending the corn into a total mixed ration will reduce the risk, said Hawkins.

“For swine [there is] a little different story, we’ve got high risk coming from DON, and from fumonisins and zearalenone, so we can affect all phases of production, sows, nursery and grow-finish,” ​he said. “That’s going to be pretty much a high risk across the board … there will be some low risk out there to swine, but on average, it’s going to be a higher risk.”

Laying hens are also expected to see some risk from DON and fumonisins, blending the corn into a ration would generate feeds with a moderate or slightly higher risk, he said. There would be a lower risk for broilers and a higher risk to young birds on starter diets.

Corn silage is also registering a series of mycotoxins – about six per sample, said Hawkins. The risk tends to come from DON and fumonisin, fusaric acid and penicillium have started to present more of a challenge.

Silage presents a moderate to slightly higher risk for dairy cows, he said.  ​Adding, “When we look at that over time, it’s been high risk all the way since the first of the year, really don’t see that changing until we get any form of new feeds.”  

Potential feed challenges for fall

Spring wet weather delayed corn planting, but some parts of the Corn Belt have started to dry out, said Hawkins.

“If we look at the percent of normal rainfall, the Northern Plains have stayed wet but from eastern Iowa, northern Illinois, across Indiana and on into Ohio it has dried out as it has on the Southern Plains,” ​he said. “These areas have dried out to the point where now if you look at the drought monitor you’re going to see that area from eastern Iowa, northern Illinois, into Indiana and Ohio beginning to show up as stressed areas on a drought monitor.”

The corn crop, especially late-planted corn, is also starting to suffer in several of those regions, he said. The stressors bring the risk of several mycotoxins developing including fusarium toxins, DON, HT2, zearalenone in late-planted corn and issues like aspergillus and fumonisin in dryer regions.  

There is also a risk of ergot toxins in a portion of the country, like North and South Dakota, where weather stayed cool and wet, he said. “The ergots have been particularly problematic with small grain forages that have been harvested for silages,”​ he added.

“A lot of dairies and some feedlots that were running out of forages, they’ve had to go to these small grain silages that had high ergot and they weren’t really expecting that,”​ Hawkins said. “We’ve seen quite a bit of problems.”

However, the initial corn silage samples coming out of Florida appear consistent with what has been generated previously, he said. “But as you come out of Florida and start to move north through Georgia we’ve got a lot of drought stress corn, and as you move further north you get into hit and miss, dry corn or extremely wet corn,”​ he added.

There has not been much information about the prevalence of corn diseases like tar spot or leaf rust, but more information is expected in the next few weeks, he said.  

“Another thing we also want to be concerned about is hail damage,”​ said Hawkins. “It can be a huge precursor to fusarium, DON, T2 and those types of things – if it’s not bad enough to wipe corn out, it can still be severe enough to cause severe plant injury and make it more prone to mold infestation.”

Going forward, producers should remain aware of the conditions in the region where they source their feed ingredients or silage, he said.

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