Fungus is a problem all grain farmers deal with a couple times a year. It can develop into mold, turn into bacteria and devastate your crop. The problem is that in some cases, you don’t know you have infected grain until after you store it. We have some options to help in that situation, but what if you could stop the fungus before the grain gets stored?
I’m not talking about fungicide or even physically checking each plant. I’m talking about a type of testing that proves you have plants infected with fungus even if there are no physical signs.
When fungus infects grain, it produces mycotoxins. The World Health Organization says this mold growth can happen long before harvest. In general, it can happen anytime the grain is under warm, damp and humid conditions. Think back to last year’s harvest. Due to many factors, most of us didn’t finish until November. For some, things didn’t wrap up until early December. We talked a bit about the issues that caused here.
But taking steps to protect your storage bins each year may not be enough. It’s hard to eliminate all mycotoxins from fungus, since they’re chemically stable. That means they can survive quite a bit. Even if you can’t see the infection, it damages animals and humans alike.
In animals, the WHO report says it can cause liver, spleen and kidney damage. In humans, mycotoxins cause nausea, vomiting, and some stomach issues. You want to solve this problem before your grain goes into the bin.
A Time For Grain Testing
There are many ways to test for mycotoxins. The most common doesn’t require any work from you, but be careful. It can hurt your wallet. Some grain elevators have started testing at point-of-sale. When farmers bring in their crop, officials test the loads for multiple toxins. They’re trying to cut their risk against identified hazards. If they don’t find anything, you’re in the clear. But any toxins found mean a lower price, if you can sell the crop at all.
Across the Midwest, elevators have stopped taking grain that tests positive for the toxins. Even if you can’t see any physical signs of fungus, they aren’t willing to take the risk. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to test before going to the elevator.
You can get mycotoxin test kits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or your local Cooperative Extension office. But this isn’t a one size fits all type of situation. There are many types of tests and let’s be honest, you don’t have the time to grab one and hope it works.
The USDA recommends to keep a couple things in mind when choosing. You need an easy test, not a complicated one that requires training beforehand. Again, you don’t have time for that. You need one with proven accuracy, and also one that’s quick. If you give the test in August but it’s September before you get results, that doesn’t help you.
Take The Right Steps
Once you pick up a testing kit, there are still a few questions to answer. The USDA suggests taking small samples from various parts of the field. That way you get a more accurate idea of if there’s an infection. When it comes to how big a sample, the USDA says 500 grams should do it. That’s 500 in total, adding the weight of each sample from around the field.
Once you’ve collected the grain, you’ll need to grind it for testing. A Bunn Commercial Coffee Grinder will do the trick, as will a Perten Falling Number Mill. The goal here is to grind down the grain into small enough pieces that it can be easily tested. Once that’s done, store samples in separate containers – like plastic bags or tupperware.
This is to make it easier for the testing team once you hand over the material. That’s the last part I should mention. You can breathe easy. You’re not going to be testing all this grain. That part will be up to the local Federal Grain Inspection Service lab. Your Cooperative Extension or USDA office can put you in contact with one.
Testing Is the First Step
On average, farmers toss out between 500 to 1,000 bushels of stored grain due to fungus. That’s according to Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension. Mycotoxin testing helps as a preventive measure in the field. But you can also protect your grain from rot once the crop is in storage with our GrainTrac system.
For more information about the system, or if you have questions about grain storage in general, we can help. Call 712-336-0199 or message us here.