Insights from the 2014 Grain Corn Ear Mould Vomitoxin Survey

Headshot of Trent Klarenbach, founder of Klarenbach Research
Trent Klarenbach
May 1, 2024
An aerial view of a large cornfield with surveying equipment and researchers actively collecting samples.
May 1, 2024
The 2014 Grain Corn Ear Mould Vomitoxin Survey, conducted across Ontario, provided critical data on the incidence of ear moulds and levels of vomitoxin (DON), which are significant concerns for corn producers and livestock feeders due to the impact on animal health and grain quality. The following article dives into key insights discovered from this survey.

Key Findings and Analysis

The survey results indicated that a significant majority of the corn samples, about 91%, had vomitoxin levels below 2.0 parts per million (PPM), which is generally considered safe for most uses. However, there were pockets of higher contamination: 9% of the samples had DON levels of 2.0 PPM or greater, highlighting areas where increased vigilance and management are necessary. This was an increase compared to the 2013 survey where only 2% of the samples exceeded this level​ (Field Crop News)​.

A picture of 3 different types of mould found on corn.

Factors Influencing Vomitoxin Levels

It was observed that certain conditions exacerbated the risk of high vomitoxin levels. Damage from pests like the Western Bean Cutworm, which facilitates the growth of the moulds that produce vomitoxin, was closely associated with higher levels of contamination. Additionally, fields that were late planted or experienced frost damage, leading to tight husk cover, were also at higher risk for increased vomitoxin levels​​.

Regional Variations

The distribution of vomitoxin levels varied across different regions, with some areas showing predominantly low levels while others had more significant occurrences above the 0.5 PPM mark. This geographical variability underscores the need for targeted monitoring and management practices based on local conditions and historical data​​.

Implications for Agriculture

The findings from the survey are crucial for guiding farmers and agronomists in making informed decisions about crop management, hybrid selection, and harvesting times to minimize the impact of ear moulds and vomitoxin. The data also helps in adjusting grading practices and setting appropriate safety standards for grain handling and livestock feeding.

Management Recommendations

To mitigate the risk of vomitoxin contamination, it is recommended that stakeholders monitor fields more closely, especially those with known pest damage or that are prone to late planting and frost impacts. Choosing resistant hybrids and employing timely harvesting strategies can also be effective in managing the risk of ear moulds and subsequent vomitoxin production.

The 2014 survey provides a snapshot that is valuable for ongoing research and development in corn production, aiming to enhance both yield quality and safety standards across the industry. Continuous monitoring and adaptation of crop management practices are essential to deal with the challenges posed by ear moulds and vomitoxins effectively.

A farmer in a cornfield inspecting corn ears for signs of mould

Future Research and Developments

Ongoing Research Needs

To further understand and control ear mould and vomitoxin levels in corn, ongoing research is crucial. Areas of focus include developing more robust hybrid varieties resistant to ear mould, improving pest management techniques, and refining predictive models for mould and toxin development based on environmental and agricultural conditions. Enhanced understanding will enable better proactive measures before the planting season starts and reactive strategies post-harvest.

Technological Advancements in Detection and Management

The application of technology in agriculture continues to evolve, offering new ways to detect and manage crop diseases and contaminants like vomitoxin. Remote sensing technologies, precision agriculture, and data analytics are playing increasing roles in monitoring crop health and environmental conditions that could predict vomitoxin risks more accurately and in real time.

A team of agricultural researchers conducting field tests on corn plants

Policy and Regulatory Impacts

Given the significant implications of vomitoxin in food safety and animal health, policymakers are also advised to consider the survey's findings. Regulations may need adjustments to reflect the reality of varying vomitoxin levels across regions and crops, ensuring that safety standards are both realistic and protective of public and animal health.

Collaboration Across the Agri-Food Chain

Collaboration among farmers, researchers, government agencies, and agribusinesses is essential to address the challenges posed by ear moulds and vomitoxin effectively. Such partnerships can lead to better strategies for managing risks associated with ear moulds and enhancing the overall quality and safety of the corn supply chain.

The 2014 Grain Corn Ear Mould Vomitoxin Survey sheds valuable light on the ongoing challenges facing corn producers in managing mould and toxin levels. The insights derived from the survey underscore the need for continued vigilance, innovation, and collaboration to safeguard the quality of corn, one of the staples of agricultural production and a critical component of food security.

This comprehensive examination not only highlights the complexities involved in managing agricultural risks but also serves as a foundation for future advancements in agricultural practices and food safety standards.