by Marshall Downing, Agricultural Systems Management Major
Vomitoxin has been an issue for farmers for many years. Depending on weather conditions, vomitoxin seems to show up in a different location each year. In the 2016 growing season, vomitoxin was found all throughout the corn belt in the United States and has caused many problems close to home.
Vomitoxin is a type of mold that typically develops on wheat heads when there is wet weather while the plant is flowering or on corn ears when there is wet weather causing moisture to collect inside the husks around the ears. This mold causes symptoms like those of food poisoning when contaminated grains are eaten by humans or animals.
I live on a grain farm in northwest Ohio where we grow wheat, soybeans, and corn. The higher-than-normal levels of vomitoxin in corn last year caused many problems around the area where I live. I saw firsthand how vomitoxin affected our farm. It greatly limited where we were able to sell our corn because we had rather high levels of the mold. We had estimates of up to 17 parts per million (ppm) of vomitoxin in some of our corn, and an ethanol plant near us began docking the price of sold grain when the level of vomitoxin was above 2 ppm. As you can expect, this caused a lot of stress when it came to selling grain and trying to make a good profit for that year.
I quickly learned a major reason why vomitoxin was so stressful to deal with. Vomitoxin is usually not a visible disease. You cannot look at a field and see that it is contaminated. The only thing that a farmer can do is to keep the weather in mind while the window is open for vomitoxin to contaminate the plants. Farmers can only predict and guess if they will have vomitoxin based on the growth stages of their crops and the weather at later stages. Even then, a farmer cannot predict how much vomitoxin a field will contain. The only real solution is to test their harvested grain at an elevator and hope for the best.
The issue of vomitoxin made me realize how much I really wanted to be a farmer. Most people would never choose a career that involved gambling their income almost completely on the weather, but that only motivated me more to become a farmer like my family has been for generations.
This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.