COLLEGE STATION – A voluntary, standardized testing method for aflatoxin is bringing consistency to the Texas grain industry, according to officials.
Until recently, grain elevators had no uniform method for sampling and testing corn for aflatoxin and no certainty the results were accurate, officials said. That’s a problem for the Texas grain industry, said Glen Jones, director of research, education and policy development for Texas Farm Bureau.
“The testing process was killing producers,” Jones said. “They didn’t know the value of their corn at the elevator or for crop insurance.”
With the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Risk Management Agency’s extended approval of the voluntary One Sample Strategy program for 2012 and succeeding crop years, a long-term solution is available to help the Texas grain industry address the problem of non-standardized methods and variable aflatoxin test results. (See the USDA RMA Manager’s Bulletin MGR-12-004.)
The program is administered by the Office of the State Chemist, part of Texas AgriLife Research.
The problem starts with Aspergillus flavus, a fungus that grows on corn and produces aflatoxin, a toxin that causes liver cirrhosis, cancer, and even death in animals and humans, said Dr. Tim Herrman, professor and director of the Office of the Texas State Chemist.
“The fungus is prevalent throughout Central and South Texas and helped along by insect damage, susceptible corn hybrids, and extreme weather conditions,” he said. “As a toxic carcinogen that poses a threat to animal and human health, aflatoxin levels in feed are regulated by the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service of the Texas State Chemist.”
To protect consumers, the State Chemist Office ensures that the Texas feed and grain industry follows the recommended Food and Drug Administration action levels for aflatoxin contaminated grain, Herrman said. For example, corn containing 200-300 parts per billion aflatoxin can only be used in feed for finishing beef cattle, while corn used in dairy cattle feed may not exceed 20 parts per billion. The Texas State Chemist uses these advisory levels to assist the Texas agriculture industry to manage risk, he said.
The value of a truckload of corn is, in part, determined by the level of aflatoxin and the price relationship is inversely proportional. As the amount of aflatoxin increases, the value of the corn decreases until, at 500 parts per billion, the grain cannot enter commerce and is considered a complete financial loss. To offset the risk of devalued corn, growers may purchase crop insurance, but elevators have no such protection against devalued corn.
The negative impacts of aflatoxin reverberate throughout the industry as insurers pay claims, elevators risk marketing contaminated grain and buyers pay more to get higher quality grain, Herrman said. And an accurate aflatoxin test is the key to fair pricing and crop indemnification as well as the protection of consumers.
“The solution is the One Sample Strategy, a voluntary aflatoxin risk management program administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist and approved by RMA,” Herrman said. “The program provides a mechanism to standardize sampling and testing equipment and methods to achieve less variable results.”
Participating grain elevator employees are trained and approved as Office of the State Chemist designees to perform standardized sampling and testing procedures defined by USDA and the Office of the Texas State Chemist. Testing accuracy is maintained through monitoring and program oversight by state chemist field investigators.
“The official test results are reported by the OTSC designees, issued by the elevator on an OTSC Certificate of Analysis and shared with RMA,” Herrman said. “One sample is taken from a truckload of corn and used by all stakeholders to inform purchasing, insurance and regulatory risk management decisions.”
From the perspective of producers and insurers, Jones said, it has standardized the testing process and helped reduce uncertainty.”
He said the time invested in testing pays off when a reliable test result is used to determine the true quality of the corn for sale. This allows a faster and more accurate assessment of lost revenue is readily available for crop insurance claims. Ultimately, the program creates a fair playing field for producers and elevators.
“Everyone’s corn can be tested the same way and we can all do a better job of protecting consumers and the health of the Texas grain industry,” Herrman said.
To find a participating elevator in your area or learn more about becoming approved for the program, visit the One Sample Strategy Web site at http://otscweb.tamu.edu/risk/OneSample.