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Mycotoxin risk from 2021 global grain production

Author: Max Hawkins, Global Technical Support, Alltech Mycotoxin Management

Click below to listen to the Mycotoxin Matters podcast episode with Dr. Max Hawkins, hosted by Nick Adams. You can also hear the full audio or listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. You can find an edited transcript at the bottom of the page. 

Grain represents a significant portion of the mycotoxin risk to livestock performance, reproduction and health. Grains are fed locally within countries and regions but are also transported globally to areas where grain production cannot meet the high demands for livestock feed. Harvest 2021 across the key grain-growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere suffered under turbulent weather conditions. Europe experienced a combination of drought in southern regions, while further north, flooding dominated. In the U.S., drought was a constant issue throughout June, July and August, and it was felt from the upper midwest to as far as parts east of the Mississippi River, covering large amounts of corn-growing country. These effects were compounded by late-season rains that delayed harvest in some regions. A similar picture surfaced across Canada, with large parts of the country being hampered by severe drought throughout the main growing season. Analysis and risk measurement of the grains is necessary to identify how these weather conditions have affected the mycotoxin landscape and the represented threat.

Alltech’s annual harvest analyses programs

Each year, Alltech carries out comprehensive mycotoxin testing programs across Europe, the U.S. and Canada that help uncover the mycotoxin threat in newly harvested crops. A total of 2,134 grain samples from the harvest seasons of 2021 were analyzed for mycotoxin presence and risk. The samples were tested at the Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analytical services laboratories via LC-MS/MS or locally with the Alltech RAPIREAD® system, utilizing Neogen lateral flow technology. Alltech also collaborated for the first time with SGS, a world leader in mycotoxin testing services. Working together with SGS in Europe to collect and examine corn samples has allowed us to expand the number of samples that we analyze and deliver a larger geographical representation of the crop quality throughout the continent. All results are reported in parts per billion (ppb) and can be used to assist in grain storage management, assignment to species or phases of production, and formulation and are a vital part of a mycotoxin management program. The 2,134 samples were made up of 1,596 samples of corn and 538 samples of wheat and barley.

Mycotoxin risk in 2021 harvested corn

The corn samples came from North America (638), Europe (714) and Latin America (244). In general, across all regions, the mycotoxin risk was higher than that which was identified in 2020 harvested grains. The numbers of mycotoxins per sample of corn averaged near 6.03 mycotoxins per sample, with 87.5% containing 2 or more mycotoxins. The major mycotoxins present were Fusarium-produced and included fusaric acid, type B-trichothecenes, fumonisin, zearalenone and emerging mycotoxins. This group of mycotoxins can impact feed intake, digestion, reproduction, embryo and fetal health, gut health, liver function and immune response. Drought periods in North America did not appear to increase the occurrence of aflatoxin B1. However, in eastern and southern Europe, the occurrence and level of aflatoxin B1 were higher, averaging 4.4 ppb with a maximum identified at 62.2 ppb. Many corn samples fromthis region exceeded the regulatory levels for aflatoxin, with raw materials containing 20ppb or above of aflatoxin deemed unsafe for use in animal feed, according to EU regulatory limits. This data is especially relevant for the dairy industry due to the risk of aflatoxin transfer from the cow through the milk supply. A multi-faceted approach, engaging all steps along the supply chain, is necessary to tackle this challenge.

Mycotoxin risk in 2021 harvested wheat and barley

Wheat and barley samples comprised 330 samples from Europe and 208 samples from Canada. These samples averaged 2.3 mycotoxins per sample, with 58.5% containing two or more mycotoxins. Type B-trichothecenes and emerging mycotoxins made up the greatest risk. As with corn samples, these Fusarium mycotoxins can contribute to risk on feed intake digestion, ADG, FE, gut health, liver function and immune response.

Increased presence and levels of Fusarium mycotoxins are associated with increased moisture and moderate to warmer temperatures. These environmental risks tend to be present more on a regional basis. These conditions were present in eastern North America and parts of central and eastern Europe. However, the risk of Fusariums can be localized, depending on events such as plant disease, wind, hail and agronomic practices. This creates the need for grains to be analyzed for mycotoxin risk.

Low risk does not mean no risk

Although small grain samples (wheat, barley) show a universal lower mycotoxin risk across Europe and Canada, only presenting around half of the mycotoxin levels contained in corn, producers should recognise that ‘low risk’ does not mean ‘no risk,’. Research shows that prolonged exposure to mycotoxins can harm livestock, even at low levels. Producers still need to develop a plan to combat the issue.

Mycotoxins in grain by products

As these grains are manufactured into by-products, the mycotoxin content will be magnified due to the same mycotoxin presence in the original grain being concentrated into a lesser mass. Similarly, as grains and their by-products transported across the globe, mycotoxin risk will also be potentially exacerbated

The environmental impact of mycotoxins

A mycotoxin challenge also leads to more than just risks to animal health and production profits. By combining mycotoxin contamination data with the impacts on animal health and performance, we are learning more about how mycotoxins also contribute to the overall carbon footprint of an agricultural operation — the greater the scale of the challenge, the greater the impact. These concerns and effects further indicate the need to identify, interpret and mitigate this risk.

Managing the mycotoxin challenge

Mycotoxin management requires a holistic approach, and the only accurate way to understand the true risk in the feeds that animals are consuming is to use a routine mycotoxin testing program when purchasing feed ingredients and establishing nutrition plans. Contact your local Alltech representative or visit to find out more.