Clearly, the best option for farmers is to not get aflatoxins in their corn. In the past, other than praying for rain, there wasn’t much a farmer in the Southeast could do to prevent aflatoxin problems.

“Whenever we plant later and get into more heat and drought stress during silking and pollination, that’s where we set the stage for aflatoxin. Planting later is typically the ticket for getting aflatoxin in corn,” says Heiniger.

The North Carolina State corn specialist says he began working with Aflaguard three years ago. It’s basically a naturally occurring strain of aspergillus flavus that doesn’t produce a toxin. It contains the same fungus, but it doesn’t produce the damaging toxins that cause problems in corn, peanuts and a number of other crops.

“Basically what happens with Aflaguard is that you apply it to a field and it takes over the field — it doesn’t kill harmful aspergillus flavus fungi, it just dominates the field and essentially crowds out these damaging strains of fungi,” Heiniger says.

“In our tests, we put down contaminated corn we know has aspergillus in it, so we’re sure we have plenty of fungal spores in the air. We treat these fields with Aflaguard and compare them with check plots to see how much of the harmful fungi are crowded out.

“Across the state, the results have been startling. We had six replicated tests and three more with side-by-side tests in farmer’s fields. In fields treated with 5-10 pounds per acre of Aflaguard, we find virtually no aflatoxin. The company that sells it  (Syngenta) advertises 87 percent control, but we are seeing 98-100 percent control in our tests,” Heiniger says.

For growers who raise swine or poultry or farm organically, this is a premium product. Livestock growers are going to remove virtually all the aflatoxin and will help a producer grow a healthier, better producing animal, Heiniger says. For farmer-feeders this product is just about a no-brainer, he adds.

In the past, mills have historically used a binding agent because they knew they would likely get a little aflatoxin in corn they buy from North Carolina. Heiniger says he and his Extension colleagues are trying to convince mills they don’t need these binding agents, at least not on corn treated with Aflaguard.

The North Carolina State corn specialist says he would ideally like to work with Syngenta, the company that markets Aflaguard, to set up a monitoring site, most likely a website that gives growers a rating on how likely contamination is to occur.