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Fighting Fumonisin

As one of the top corn producers in the U.S., Indiana plays a vital role in supplying raw ingredients for feed and other commodities. To ensure a quality product, farmers and growers must be alert for crop contamination by mycotoxins. Of the 400 known mycotoxins, fumonisin was recently discovered in 1988 and commonly infects corn. It is produced by the fungi Fusarium and can often be identified as a mold ranging from white to salmon pink in color. However, appearances can be misleading, and even if no physical rot is visible, fumonisin may still be present in a plant.

The Fusarium species is known as a field fungi, and it primarily affects crops prior to storage. After causing seedling blight, stalk rot or ear rot, the fungi will begin producing fumonisins in the affected area. It colonizes corn silks while they are turning brown and also invades kernels that have been damaged by insects. Fumonisin flourishes in moist conditions after a plant has been weakened by dry weather. Although it is less likely to develop in storage, fumonisin can still form if the harvested corn has not been sufficiently dried and has a moisture content of 18 to 23 percent.

Although fumonisin is commonly present at approximately 1-3 parts per million in most corn crops, it can become harmful and even deadly for consumers at higher concentrations. These concentrations vary for particular species, and they affect animal groups in different ways. For example, horses are highly susceptible to this toxin and often experience fatal lesions in the brain. Swine are very sensitive to fumonisin levels and suffer from pulmonary oedema, jaundice and lesions in the liver and pancreas. Although ruminants and poultry can tolerate higher concentrations, they still experience negative side effects. Fumonisin decreases feed intake and milk production in cows and causes increased liver weight, thin egg shells and irregular bone development in chickens. Fish that have ingested fumonisin experience poor growth, immunosuppression and a reduction in red blood cell count. Although scientists have yet to establish fumonisin’s impact on humans, it is speculated that this toxin can contribute to oesophageal cancer and neural tube defects.

In light of the debilitating effects of fumonisin poisoning, it is essential that farmers fight this mycotoxin throughout all stages of a crop’s life cycle. One of the most important steps is testing harvested crops. Farmers, growers and feed mills have a responsibility to ensure that any concentrations of fumonisin are below the harmful levels. By testing ingredients, farmers and growers can be confident in the safety and quality of their products.