High levels of the toxin known as aflatoxin hurt some Illinois corn yields already hit hard by drought, an expert in that state says.
"Here in east central Illinois, where aflatoxin is seldom a problem, it was a serious problem in some places, especially where yields were low due to drought stress," says Emerson Nafziger, a professor in the crop sciences department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Most of the lowest-yielding fields have been harvested, and with crop insurance coverage that (as I understand) extended to aflatoxin losses, the impact was much less on those with such coverage than it might have been otherwise. "
USDA-approved blending of corn with varying levels of aflatoxin "greatly extended the supply, especially for corn shipped away, say for export," Nafziger says. And toxin levels next year are expected to remain low, which would be normal, unless the summer proves to be hot and dry.
As for fighting off aflatoxin in the future: "There is a novel control method (trade name Contans) that involves application of the fungus as a strain without the ability to form the toxin, with the idea that … if there is infection, there won’t be much toxin produced," Nafziger says. "It hasn’t been around long enough to fully prove itself, and it’s not inexpensive. Our best protection will continue to be getting less-stressful weather, which in ‘normal’ years means we don’t have the problem."