According to the latest statistics provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Louisiana farmers planted approximately 500,000 acres of corn this year. Only the earliest corn acreage has been harvested with full scale harvesting set to occur during mid to late August.
Consequently, the earlier planted corn was also the most drought-stressed throughout the growing season. The areas that aflatoxin reports have been highest have been from northern Point Coupee Parish, and southeast Avoyelles Parish, which had some of the earliest corn growing in the driest conditions.
Aflatoxin concerns spread across Louisiana after the outbreak that devastated the corn crop in 1998. The aflatoxin event in1998 forced many farmers out of the corn business as the 700,000 acres of corn planted dropped to 340,000 in 1999.
Acreage has begun to increase slowly again and could exceed 500,000 acres next year if prices continue to increase in addition to having low reports of aflatoxin this year.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set aflatoxin limits or action levels that are acceptable in animal feeds that range from 20 to 300 parts per billion (ppb). The FDA guidelines are also used by grain elevators to determine the appropriate channel to market grain to end-users.
According to sources at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, some samples that have been analyzed tested positive for aflatoxin while other samples have had no detection of aflatoxin.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is also establishing a remote aflatoxin testing facility in Jonesville, La., in the next week or so to do remote testing in that part of the state. The consensus from the department at this point of the harvest season, is that we are in a “normal” year where there is some aflatoxin detection but not enough to warrant wide-spread panic at this time.
Matt Thibodeaux, a commercial trader for Bungee in Greenville, Miss., says that “there have been isolated occurrences of aflatoxin on some of the earliest corn that was harvested, which was to be expected but it is slowing down as the harvesting progresses. St.. Joseph, Tallulah, and Transylvania have had no reports of aflatoxin.”
Johnny O’Neal, manager of Central Louisiana Grain Coop located south of Alexandria, said “not much corn has been brought in as of yet but some of his samples were running around 25 to 30 ppb.”
Brad Terral of Terral Farm Service in Delhi has reported that “aflatoxin occurrences have been minimal and extremely low and that Terral is receiving corn from Mer Rouge to Wisner and reporting no aflatoxin.”
Rick Calhoun, vice president of North American Grain and Oil Seeds for Cargill, said that “after one strong week of harvesting, the number of positive tests were not particularly high but neither particularly low and that he felt that Louisiana was gearing up for a “normal” year where aflatoxin is detected in some cases but not in devastating numbers or cases.”
Early reports on yield from Heath Finley at Terral Farm Service are that “dry-land corn yields are ranging from 70 to about 150 bushels per acre with irrigated corn ranging from 150 to 175 bushels per acre.”
Miles Brashier, county agent in Point Coupee parish, said that “for the most part, the parish is running around the 140-bushel mark, with exceptions here and there. There is still a great deal of corn that is drying down in fields that received just in time rains during kernel formation.”
The general consensus of the growers, county agents, researchers, and agribusiness personnel that I spoke with was that we will find some isolated occurrences of aflatoxin primarily in the south central to southeast part of the state, which had the driest growing conditions, but as the season progresses, occurrences will hopefully continue to decrease.
David Lanclos is the corn, soybean and grain sorghum specialist with the LSU AgCenter.