Lamb County, Texas, grower Brent Burns doesn’t claim to be a corn grower, but he does utilize the crop as a rotation in his primarily cotton operation. So he was more than a bit concerned last year when he saw an increase of fumonisin in his irrigated corn acres, something he attributes to a lack of water and hybrid selection.
“What we noticed was a relationship between [fumonisin and] the ability to irrigate,” Burns says. “So, in the better-watered fields, the incidents seemed to be lower than in the fields that stressed during pollination.”
Fumonisin is a toxin produced by a fungus, Fusarium verticillioides, which is widely distributed through most corn-producing regions and becomes an issue whenever environmental conditions favor infection and development of the disease, says Dr. Jason Woodward, Texas AgriLife Extension plant pathologist at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Lubbock.
Burns also noticed a hybrid component to his fumonisin issues, but says it’s not something he could say, “X-hybrid was no good because it had fumonisin.”
“We grew one hybrid that we knew had a higher susceptibility to fusarium and was rated as such, but that’s not something we really pay attention to because it’s not something we’ve really dealt with,” Burns explains. “That hybrid did have a little higher level of fumonisin— you could see it in the kernels and in the bin— but it wasn’t high enough where we got in a panic or where it was above 60 ppm (parts per million) and you started to be docked.”
He did take a hit with another hybrid he planted on two 30-acre plots that got stressed during pollination. “We had a couple of fields that went over 60 ppm, but those fields were ones that got hot. We knew those fields could be an issue because we lost a well for a long time.
“But everything else for us was below that 60 ppm level.”
As Burns plans for the 2018 season, he says that while he knows the fumonisin issues are greatly influenced by environmental factors, he will carefully consider water capacity and hybrid selection before planting. “If we are going to grow corn to accommodate for the fumonisin, we’ll probably make sure those corn fields are where we have the highest irrigation capacity.”
To play it safe, Burns says he’ll choose a hybrid based on its fumonisin rating. “We’ll stick with those hybrids that work and definitely grow corn where our irrigation capacity is the highest. That’s what we’ve tried to do in the past, regardless, but everybody’s water has dropped off and you think, well, ‘maybe I can grow corn here one more year and be OK and stretch it a little thinner.’”
But this is not a risk Burns will take in 2018.
With varying levels of fumonisin present in each of Burns’ corn fields in 2017, he says it was important for insurance purposes to receive certified testing results from his local elevator, Ag Producers Co-op at Olton.
Outside of the Plainview Grain Exchange, Ag Producers Co-op (both its Bushland and Olton elevators) is one of four facilities on the High Plains certified by the Office of the Texas State Chemist (OTSC) to administer One Sample Strategy testing. This certified testing method provides producers, crop insurance agents, local grain elevators, feed mills, and regulators real‐time information about the true level of mycotoxins going into and out of the grain bins.
“I think once we became certified we just were a lot more accurate on our testing. We didn’t see the erratic levels, where one load tests high and one tests low,” says Brent Wilhelm, grain marketing, Ag Producers Co-op, Olton. “We were blending all of those loads from one particular field together and it was a more uniform sample, a more uniform look at that field rather than per load.”
Once Ag Producers Co-op began using the One Sample Strategy, Wilhelm says they only had four fields that tested high. “As we got later into harvest, the problem became less. The later corn didn’t catch the earlier stress at peak stage and it wasn’t as far along at maturity when the rain came so the rain was probably helping it instead of hurting it,” says Wilhelm. “60 ppm is the limit, and most of the corn was averaging 25 ppm to 190 ppm, so we were getting up there. And then towards the end we were getting all of that dryland corn, and it was 5 ppm, 2 ppm. Everybody was saying, ‘it’s that dryland corn,’ but it barely registered.”
OTSC certification also allows Ag Producers Co-op to issue certificates to growers from the State Chemist’s Office that insurance adjusters will accept when filing a claim. “Insurance will only honor certificates that are received from certified elevators or the grain exchange,” Wilhelm says.
While harvest is over, Wilhelm says they continue to test outbound loads being delivered to local feed yards. Being certified by a the OTSC allows Ag Producers Co-op to put a sticker on an outgoing load ticket certifying that the load has been tested and falls below acceptable fumonisin levels. “If the state chemist shows up at a feed yard to pull samples and the truck driver has a ticket from Ag Producers, it’s going to indicate that it’s already been certified and the state chemist is not going to sample the load. We’re basically acting as the state chemist when we do all that.”
David Gibson, executive director, Texas Corn Producers, Lubbock, advises growers to work with their insurance adjuster and follow what they tell you. He adds that growers need to be diligent in their record-keeping and document everything in writing so that on the chance that a grower is reviewed by the Risk Management Agency (RMA), he or she will have all of the necessary information.
“If you had over $200,000 in claims, you are probably going to be reviewed by RMA. Every ‘i’ must be dotted, every ‘t’ must be crossed just to make sure you are in compliance. Err on the side of caution.”