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Texas Grain Industry Reduces Aflatoxin Risk

By Blair Fannin

Grain industry representatives are touting the effectiveness of the One Sample Strategy, a standardized testing method for aflatoxin.

The program is administered by the Office of the Texas State Chemist, part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

The program has received support from a number of grain groups who are backing the program. Previously, grain elevators had no uniform method for sampling and testing corn for aflatoxin and no certainty the results were accurate, according to officials.

“This can be a game changer for Texas in grain quality,” said Brandon Murawski, merchandiser with the Scoular Company in Overland, Kansas. “Aflatoxin has been an issue in Texas for the past couple of years. It’s something that people always have to monitor. It’s taking risk out of the market.”

Of more than 875 aflatoxin verification samples submitted to the Office of the State Chemist in 2014, approximately 80 percent were within acceptable limits, averaging 18 parts per billion. In 2011, during the worst drought in Texas history, 720 samples tested an average of 84 parts per billion.

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, said Dr. Tim Herrman, state chemist.

For example, corn containing 200-300 parts per billion of 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 action levels to manage risk, Herrman said.

The value of a truckload of corn is, in part, determined by the level of aflatoxin. As the amount of aflatoxin increases, the value of the corn decreases until, at 500 parts per billion, the grain cannot enter commerce.

“To offset the risk of devalued corn, growers may purchase crop insurance. However, grain elevators bear the full risk associated with inaccurate measurement of aflatoxin,” Herrman said.

“The solution is the One Sample Strategy, a voluntary aflatoxin risk management program administered by the Office of the State Chemist and approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture-Risk Management Agency,” Herrman said. “The program provides a mechanism to standardize sampling and testing equipment and methods to achieve less variable results.”

Glen Jones, director of research, education and policy development for Texas Farm Bureau in Waco, said prior to the One Sample Program, the grain testing process was “completely inconsistent.”

“Producers didn’t know the value of their corn at the elevator or for crop insurance,” he said.

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 Office of the State Chemist designees, issued by the elevator on an OTSC Certificate of Analysis and used for crop indemnification purposes,” 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.”

“I think it’s a great program and we’ve seen good value so far,” said Evan Ryan, a merchandising colleague of Murawski with Scoular Company. “If we get some more end-users to adopt, that will drive greater adoption of the program by grain handlers. I think it could change the environment of Texas corn.”

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